Azurá Stevens embracing new chapter in L.A. after three seasons with Sky

“I have the opportunity to be counted on more from a leadership standpoint, and I’m ready for that,” Stevens said.

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Los Angeles Sparks v Seattle Storm

Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Even before she entered the arena Friday, Sparks forward Azurá Stevens experienced a happy coincidence.

As she was pulling into Crypto.com Arena, her home court after signing with the Sparks as an unrestricted free agent in February, she was met by the bus carrying her old Sky team. For some, that kind of encounter might have been distracting. But Stevens welcomed the opportunity to walk in with some of her former teammates.

‘‘It was wonderful timing,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘I got to say hi to everybody, and we’ll catch up after the game.’’

Stevens was one of four unrestricted free agents who left the Sky in free agency. They all had their reasons. For Stevens, her decision to move on from the Sky after three seasons and a championship was the allure of being part of something being built from scratch.

Of course, the Sparks have a well-established championship culture. They are the last WNBA team to win back-to-back titles (2001-02) and won their third with Candace Parker in 2016. But after consecutive seasons of missing the postseason, the Sparks are trying to re-establish themselves.

‘‘Everybody’s seen L.A. over the last couple of years,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘It’s been a little rocky. But we’re trying to build something special, and I really wanted to play with Nneka [Ogwumike].’’

During free agency, Stevens met with several teams in person while she was playing overseas in Turkey. The Sparks weren’t one of them, however. They were the only team she met with only virtually.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter. Stevens loved what she heard from new Sparks coach Curt Miller and general manager Karen Bryant. While the Sky was one of three teams Stevens was considering, she said there wasn’t anything more coach/GM James Wade could have done to re-sign her.

‘‘I had a talk with James about coming back and what they had to offer,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘I don’t know, I won’t say I wasn’t interested. It just was time for me to move on to a new chapter in my life and career on all cylinders.’’

Stevens’ first season with the Sparks started on the injury report with a minor back injury. She missed their first five games before making her debut in a loss this week to the Storm. She finished with four points, three rebounds and one assist in 15 minutes.

In this next chapter of her career, Stevens said she is looking forward to redefining herself. She spent her time with the Sky learning from the veterans around her. With the Sparks, she’s learning to embrace being called a veteran and is ready to take advantage of an expanded role.

‘‘I have the opportunity to be counted on more from a leadership standpoint, and I’m ready for that,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘I learned a lot from good vets throughout my [career.] It’s exciting that I have a chance to display the skills I’ve learned.’’

Roster update

After the Sky played five of its first eight games with fewer than 10 available players, Wade signed center Khaalia Hillsman and forward Taylor Soule to hardship contracts. Both arrived in Los Angeles hours before the Sky’s game against the Sparks.

Wade must terminate one contract when the team has 10 available players. The other will end when Isabelle Harrison (knee) or Rebekah Gardner (foot) returns.

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