After unsuccessfully surviving Sportsamgeddon (or Sportsachella) last weekend, the Los Angeles sports scene is entering not necessarily a new era, but a highly unusual one. One where up is down and down is up or just return of old favorites.
The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball after reviled owner Frank McCourt sold the team in the spring. With the return of Matt Barkley and the end of its two year bowl ban, USC looks poised to return to prominence. Even UCLA football looks like it could bounce back with new coach Jim L. Mora. And of course, the Kings are only one game away from the Stanley Cup finals. On the flip side, the Angels are barely treading water in the American League following the big money signings of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. Sadly, the Galaxy haven’t found a way to recover from defender Omar Gonzlez’s season ending injury.
Which brings us to the Clippers and the Lakers. One team potentially bright future ahead and the other is heading for a dark and tumultuous summer.
It’s difficult to not sound like an AYSO coach or soccer mom when talking about the Clippers’ season and playoff performance. Yes, they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs, but the Spurs are playing at a completely different level right now. The Spurs are playing total football. Looking at the positives of the Clippers situation, Blake Griffin learned or at least, hopefully learned a lot of playing against Tim Duncan and Zach Randolph for consecutive games. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are at turning point in their careers: do they continue on as raw athletic talent or do they become skilled players? It’s quickly becoming a punch line, but hopefully Griffin and Jordan spend some time with Hakeen Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the off season. Better yet if Griffin is called to the Olympics, that experience could help round out his game more.
The biggest hurdle that Clippers face this summer is their coaching situation. For an underachiever, Vinny Del Negro did fairly well in the playoffs. Del Negro rode with his veterans Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans down the stretch in that crucial game seven against Memphis. At times during the regular season, it seemed like the players weren’t buying into Del Negro’s system. Do the Clippers test the coaching market and attempt to find a coach that would appease Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? Coaches like Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan and the recently fired Stan Van Gundy are all available. While it seems incredibly unlikely, Donald Sterling could offer Phil Jackson enough money to come out of retirement. Stranger things have happen.
Things seem a bit more cloudy for the Clippers’ Staples Center roommate, the Lakers. The angry mob that’s lighting the call board at 710 ESPN are probably bitching out Andrew Bynum for his disappearance from the playoffs after the first game against the Denver Nuggets, sending Pau Gasol to Orlando or Brooklyn, wondering why they traded Fisher and Odom, firing general manager Mitch Kupchak, and, of course, suggesting that there’s a conspiracy against the Lakers after David Stern wrongfully nixed the Chris Paul deal. Naturally, Kobe Bryant will go partially unscathed from the callers.
Kobe Bryant certainly fought hard for basketball life in the playoffs, but there were many moments when Bryant appeared mortal despite his off season surgies. As I wrote before, the Oklahoma series was the part of the movie when the kid gets revenge on the bad guy who killed his parents in the first act. It’s the end of the line for one hero and another becomes a hero for the first time.
At the same time, Kobe Bryant isn’t going to give up that easily nor will the Lakers. The Los Angeles Lakers don’t rebuild, they reload, as some one once said. Their salary cap situation makes certainly difficult to pull off a lot of trades or pursue free agents, but Mitch Kupchak and Lakers team president Jim Buss will find a way. For all of the shit we’ve given Jim Buss this year, he knew what he was doing with the attempted Chris Paul trade. That trade would’ve made the transition from Phil Jackson to Mike Brown a little smoother.
Would the addition of Dwight Howard and Deron Williams bring Bryant that elusive sixth championship? Maybe.
Another question to ask: how will handle Kobe Bryant handle this off season? Will he go on any local sports talk radio station and complain about the organization or will he just fly under the radar?