Sparks-Storm Preview

(AP) -- - There's a new boss of the Los Angeles Sparks, and he answers to Magic.

Former Lakers great Magic Johnson stepped in to buy the Sparks earlier this year, ensuring a future for the WNBA in the nation's second-largest market, and they'll open the 2014 season Friday night with a visit to the Seattle Storm.

By rescuing the team after its previous owners decided to end their involvement, Johnson gave Candace Parker a chance to chase the only major title to elude the reigning league MVP in her career.

She has won two Olympic gold medals, two NCAA championships at Tennessee and a title with her Russian pro team during the offseason. The Sparks last won the WNBA championship in 2002.

In a preseason survey of the league's 12 general managers, Parker was named on 50 percent of the ballots to once again earn the league's MVP award. She won MVP honors at last year's All-Star game. All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike was chosen as the league's most athletic player with 50 percent of the vote.

Last season, the Sparks were 24-10 and lost to Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals under coach Carol Ross.

Parker averaged 17.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists to lead the team. She'll be surrounded by experienced starters, including Ogwumike, who averaged 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds last season.

The Sparks signed free agent Candice Wiggins last month, bolstering them at the guard position. She has averaged double-figure scoring in four of her six seasons and helped Minnesota win the 2011 championship. Wiggins figures to come off the bench, with Lindsey Harding, Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard giving the Sparks a three-guard starting rotation. All-Star Toliver averaged 14.1 points, third-highest on the team last season.

The backups include newcomer Armintie Herrington, a seven-year veteran, Farhiya Abdi of Sweden, Sandrine Gruda of France, and Jantel Lavender.

"We have a lot of different combinations," Wiggins said. "We can go really big, we can go really fast, we're very versatile."

Seattle finished 17-17 last year and lost in the West semis to eventual WNBA champion Minnesota, all with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson spending the season away due to injuries.

Bird and Jackson were supposed to reunite and begin the next chapter of their careers playing for the Storm, but another injury to Jackson derailed those plans.

Without Jackson, the Storm went out and added Crystal Langhorne to try to boost their front-court presence.

''To be back, to know I'll be able to put this uniform on again and play in front of these fans, I'm really looking forward to it,'' Bird said. ''This is a place I'm very comfortable in. Every time I take the court and hear those fans go crazy for us, it's a special feeling, and I haven't felt it in a while.''

The return of Bird and addition of Langhorne should help make up for the absence of Jackson and the retirement of Tina Thompson. Jackson remained in Australia after undergoing surgery on her knee and Achilles tendon in February, continuing a run of injury hardship that has limited her availability since Seattle won its second WNBA title in 2010.

But getting Bird back is a major boost.

''She's really the face of the organization. She's a unique talent-slash-player-slash person,'' coach Brian Agler said. ''Like I've told many people: There are 30-plus NBA teams who wish they had a player like Sue Bird on their team. She just brings out the best. She understands the game, she thinks the game unlike anybody else.''

Langhorne averaged 12.0 points last season with Washington. She's also been durable, starting every game she has played in each of the past four seasons.

''I was shocked a little bit. But I was excited about the new opportunity of coming here,'' Langhorne said. ''The history this organization has, it's just a fresh new start and I want to help this team win.''

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