I've never been a big fan of Bill Plaschke. I respect his writing style and the numerous awards that he was won. But I've long accepted that Plaschke and I see the sports through completely different lenses, and I haven't criticized his work as much as I've wanted to.
One of my chief complaints about Plaschke is that he's fickle. He's a columnist who will quickly change his opinion, going whichever way the wind blows. Perhaps no single player illustrates this point more than Matt Kemp. Today, I was absolutely flabbergasted when online and saw his LA Times column headlined "Dodgers' Matt Kemp shows his tremendous upside."
I was floored, because no sports writer in this town has been more critical of Matt Kemp over the years. Yet here was Plaschke writing:
Watching Matt Kemp play center field is like watching a Lakers shooting guard who somehow wandered into baggy baseball pants.
He soars. He dishes. He bangs.
There was a time when Plaschke advocated trading Kemp, but now he's comparing him to Kobe Bryant. I've always been a Matt Kemp fan, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Kemp is not the best player in his sport. Still, I'm glad that Plaschke has finally gotten on the Kemp bandwagon after waiting the interminably long 2-year period for him to develop.
Here is a sampling of Plaschke's love-hate-love-hate-love relationship with Kemp.
On July 26, 2006, Plaschke wrote a column headlined "Colletti Should Choose Sacrifice Over Surrender" in which he advocated the Dodgers trade a prospect for help at the deadline. Still he valued Matt Kemp and wrote: "I'm not talking about trading the Russell-Martin-Andre-Ethier- Jonathan-Broxton-Matt-Kemp kind of kids."
A few months later, Plaschke decided he was talking about trading those kind of kids. In a December 10, 2006 column headlined "With power low, Colletti must work the phones" claiming the Dodgers should trade for a power hitter, Plaschke wrote:
The combination of [Brad] Penny and one of the Dodgers' prospects would fetch a hitter like Toronto's Vernon Wells or Atlanta's Andruw Jones. ...
Or, what's wrong with packaging Penny with Matt Kemp?
After Kemp's initial power surge last summer, he looked lost against the curveball and is still clearly a year away from making a regular impact. Considering he may never field the position well enough to play center field, why not take advantage of his potential in a trade right now?
In fairness, no one expected Andruw Jones to collapse the way he did, but both him and Wells have been signed to two of the worst contracts in MLB history. Despite Penny's ups and downs, it's a good thing that Ned Colletti didn't take Plaschke's advice.
By the middle of next season, Plaschke had changed his mind again. He suddenly liked Kemp, and all of the Dodger young players. In a June 22, 2007 column headlined "Colletti should blaze trail by just staying the course" Plaschke advised Colletti: "Stay put. Hold fast. Don't do anything crazy. [Colletti's] youngsters are fun." He later added:
But Colletti should politely refuse again, and hand the phone to a fan, who will tell him that these kids are just too much fun to give up.
With the Dodgers games blaring in the background of my life in the last couple of weeks, I have stopped to watch James Loney hit. I have dropped everything to watch Matt Kemp swing. I'm almost always sitting down when Russell Martin is coming up.
Plaschke further echoed this point in an August 2, 2007 column headlined: "Dodgers wise not to trade future for present". He wrote:
For the first time in a decade, they are no longer the kind of team that needs to do calisthenics every July to be strong for many Octobers.
They have a nucleus. They have a surplus. They have a clue.
What they may not eventually have this season is a spot in the playoffs, but -- and I can't believe I'm writing this -- maybe that can wait.
Maybe they have to sacrifice a September for James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to learn how to play in the heat.
Maybe they have to lose a division for Jonathon Broxton to learn how to pitch under the glare.
Maybe Dodgers fans, just this once, will agree to pay for two months of soaring, skidding fun with an October of silence.
Having finally collected enough good players to contend for several years, the Dodgers smartly refused to break them up for the sake of this one.
Maybe, by taking no big steps, they have actually taken a giant one.
Two weeks later, Plaschke's patience was already starting to wear thin in a column titled "This is going to hurt for a while", he wrote:
The ball bounced under Matt Kemp's glove and rolled toward the right-field wall, a shiny white mistake in an embarrassing sea of green.
The ball flew off Matt Kemp's bat and drifted over the center- field fence, a shiny white souvenir in a triumphant sky of blue.
In a span of about six minutes Tuesday, the Dodgers gave their fans a snapshot of the next six weeks, and the picture is clear.
If you want to cheer, you must first groan.
If you want to enjoy, you must first endure.
If you want to eventually celebrate the successes of the best collection of young Dodgers talent in the last decade, you must first watch them go splat.
There's a reason they don't call it growing joys.
Plaschke still had a grasp for the player development process, but it didn't last long. Just over a month later, he wrote in a Sept. 21 column:
This youth movement has officially gotten old.
I thought it would work, I really did, but I admit today that I am wrong.
This was around the time that the petulant Jeff Kent was feuding with Matt Kemp, and the aging Luis Gonzalez was complaining that the 22-year old rookie was cutting into his playing time. Plaschke appeared to side with "the veterans" and wrote a column with the headline "Don't write Kemp's name in ink in the lineup".
Times blogger Jon Weisman reflects on this column in a post yesterday, but I wanted to bring up a few other lines. Plaschke wrote then:
The kids are no longer untouchable.
At least one of those kids could be the centerpiece in a winter trade that could bring the team a badly needed veteran star.
That kid could be Matt Kemp.
And he later added:
Matt Kemp's breathtaking ability makes him attractive. But his constant struggles to embrace the little things that turn talent into championships make him expendable.
By November 2, 2007, Plaschke had a Kemp trade in his mind. In writing about Joe Torre's hiring, he said:
Who knows what he will do with Matt Kemp? If he and his veteran coaching staff can reach this marvelously talented but tough-to-coach kid, maybe he can stay. But if Kemp is the one piece who can bring in the big hitter, he's gone.
Then on December 7, Plaschke said the Dodgers should trade for Erik Bedard or Johan Santana, claiming:
Either pitcher would cost them Matt Kemp. But either would put them in the playoffs. And, as Jose Lima would tell you, who knows what could happen then?
Ironically, Matt Kemp helped put the Dodgers in the playoffs in 2008 and they're in good position with him in 2009. Neither Bedard nor Santana have reached the playoffs with the Mariners or Mets since that writing. Both pitchers have suffered serious injuries, which have further illustrated the risk associated with trading for an ace pitcher. I'm sure Seattle wishes it hadn't traded Bedard for Adam Jones, George Sherrill, and several other prospects. Santana though is one of the five-best pitchers in baseball, but I don't think that Kemp alone could have brought him here.
Plaschke's criticism of Kemp had gotten to be well-known in some baseball circles, and the columnist felt motivated to visit the outfielder in Phoenix where he did his offseason workouts. In a piece titled "Dodgers' Kemp works to improve his image", Plaschke defended himself saying:
The veterans quietly complained about everything from late clubhouse arrivals to dumb baserunning errors to smiles after losses.
Those complaints reached the ears of Dodgers management, whose thoughts reached me, so I wrote a column about the possibility that Kemp would be traded.
It wasn't my idea, it was the Dodgers' idea, yet judging from the angry responses I received, you would have thought I put a "For Sale" sign in front of Kemp's locker.
So all along Plaschke was saying that he wasn't stating his opinion in his opinion column. He was merely reporting that a few people in the Dodgers front office wanted him gone. Just like on July 4, 2008 when he wrote:
It may be time to trade some of that flashy talent for somebody who understands the fundamentals. And, yes, once again, Matt Kemp's name is being whispered through Dodgers offices.
Players such as Kemp and Andre Ethier and James Loney have been more highly touted than guys such as Casey Kotchman, Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar.
But it is those Angels who have a better understanding of winning.
For a guy who is just reporting what other people think about Matt Kemp, Plaschke sure sounds like someone who agrees with them.
Plaschke's critiques of Kemp continued all the way through September 19, 2008, when in a column called "There's a lot that can go wrong", he listed "Matt Kemp's mind" as one those things. He called out Kemp's "blunders on the bases" and criticized him for striking out too much.
But after the Dodgers won a playoff series and lost in the NLCS, Plaschke changed his mind again. This time he liked Kemp, writing on October 16, 2008:
First, keep the kids together, build next season around Ethier, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton and, yes, Billingsley and DeWitt.
I know, I never thought I'd say that, I'm the last one in town to see the light, but at times it has been delightfully blinding. The scars of this series will disappear. Their incredible growth during the second half of this season will not.
He "never thought [he'd] say that" except for the August 2, 2007 column when he also said "I can't believe I'm writing this" in reference to keeping the Dodgers young players together.
Now he's comparing Kemp to Kobe Bryant and saying:
His tires have been kicked so much by folks in town, they forget he's still only 24, two years younger than Ethier.
Yet it's Plaschke who has kicked Kemp's tires as much anyone in this town.
I don't necessarily intend to bash Plaschke here, but he wields as much influence as any sports scribe in Los Angeles. Someone in his position shouldn't be able to change his mind this often and get away with it. I bring all of his past writings up to show how a sports writer can overreact to the present and advocate foolish decisions in the process. It's important for fans and team officials to take Plaschke's opinions with a grain of salt.
The player development process is incredibly complex, and running a baseball team requires a sound vision as well as a nuanced understanding of both the economic and on-field realities that affect the sport. Even the best GMs are wrong about players sometimes, but the Dodgers did the right thing by holding onto Kemp.
Let's be honest about who Matt Kemp is. He's an incredibly talented player who has the potential to be a 30-30 man in multiple years. He's also just 24, still strikes out too much, and he made some silly on-field mistakes in the early stages of his career. It took Kemp just two years to develop into a very good major leaguer, and I would argue that his play was still a net positive for the Dodgers during those 2 developmental years.
He's not Kobe Bryant, but he's definitely not "expendable." He is someone who can be an All-Star multiple times, and he's definitely not a kid anymore. I'm glad the Dodgers didn't trade him.
Listening to sports talk radio yesterday, the broadcasters were positively giddy over the Angels' acquisition of Scott Kazmir. Bill Shaikin in the LA Times is similarly excited by the deal, saying Kazmir is just what the Halos needed. While Kazmir does improve the Angels rotation this season, trading for him does come with some risk.
I'm somewhat familiar with Kazmir from my time working for the Rays organization. I got to know him a little personally as well. He's certainly a guy who likes to do things his own way, as recently evidenced by his recent decision to work out with former Mets pitching coach Rick Petersen while recovering from injury. He's also a pitcher who has been blessed with an extraordinary amount of talent, throwing a mid-90s fastball, a devastating slider, and a good changeup.
Kazmir has pitched some of the best games I've ever seen, mainly in mid-2006, and he also led the American League in strikeouts in 2007. He also has a tendency to get up for big games, and some of his best starts have been against the Red Sox, the team that has tortured the Angels in the playoffs in recent years.
But watching Kazmir pitch has also been frustrating as he hasn't quite lived up to the hype. Kazmir has missed at least one month due to injury in three of the past four seasons. He sometimes struggles with his control, leading him to throw far too many pitches. He seldom reaches the 7th inning, forcing the bullpen to carry the load. Throughout the Rays pennant drive last year, Kazmir often had "adventurous" first innings, in which he'd throw a ton of pitches, allow a few a baserunners, perhaps give up a run or two, but then work his way out of a jam.
This year has been Kazmir's worst, as his ERA hovered over 7, before finally going down to 5.92 now that he's healthier. His injury history and his inability to pitch deep in games has led some baseball observers to question whether he will realize his potential. Either way, he is owed at least $24 million on his current contract, difficult for any team with limited resources to afford. The Rays have a deep farm system, and I don't think substituting Wade Davis into the Tampa Bay rotation is a downgrade by any means.
Still, Kazmir is just 25, and he has pitched better in last few starts. He represents an upgrade over Trevor Bell in the current rotation, and at least gives the Angels an answer to the question of "What will you do if John Lackey leaves in the offseason?" Kazmir helps the Angels in 2009, although it's not clear if he'll make the postseason rotation.
It's hard to fully analyze this deal without knowing who the player-to-be-named is, someone who Rays manager Joe Maddon called "a very interesting player that I'm very excited about." I don't profess to be an expert on minor league talent, but I've been hearing good things about Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney, the two prospects that the Angels have given up for now.
At the end of the day, I think this trade works for both teams. But it ultimately will be judged by what Scott Kazmir does beyond this year, and whether he will be worth what the Angels will need to pay him. It's a high-risk, high-reward deal for the Halos.
For first time in school history, a true freshman will start at quarterback for USC on Opening Day. Matt Barkley will do the honors against San Jose State on September 5.
The move is somewhat surprising, considering that experience and consistency at QB have been real hallmarks of the position under Pete Carroll. But Barkley has continued to impress the USC coaching staff since forgoing his second semester of high school to start spring practices for the Trojans. Barkley has a fantastic arm, throws beautiful passes, and he has the ability to create big plays.
Barkley had the most upside of the three QBs, and that helped him win the job. But he also won it because Aaron Corp is clearly not 100% since suffering a cracked fibula in practice earlier this month. Corp throws the ball well, but his real asset is his speed and scrambling ability. With the injured leg, Corp simply can't be effective, so starting him opening day apparently was out of the question. Unfortunaltey for Corp, the game experience that Barkley will get early in the season is invaluable, and it will be interesting to see if Corp winds up hoping he's the next Matt Cassel.
I still wonder why Mitch Mustain never seemed to have a chance at the job during training camp. He's the only QB with any significant collegiate experience, and he went 8-0 as a starter in the SEC for Arkansas. Mustain is now in his third year in the Trojan system, and should know it well by now. But apparently the coaching staff felt that Mustain never stepped up and earned the starting job when given the opportunity, and he opened training camp as clearly the No. 3 QB. Still, you wonder if we've seen the last of Mustain, or if Barkley struggles, then perhaps the coaching staff will want someone reliable at that spot.
Many USC fans are worried that Barkley might struggle. Any true freshman is going to have growing pains, even highly touted ones like Matt Barkley. With USC entering the season with legitimate national championship hopes, the real question at what cost will Barkley's learning experiences come? He's looked great in training camp at times, but he's also tried to do too much and thrown passes that have been intercepted by the Trojans highly touted defensive backs. What happens when Barkley suits up in Week 2 against Ohio State in front over 100,000+ at the Horse Shoe in Columbus? What about other tough road starts this season at Cal, at Oregon, and at Arizona State? Notre Dame is also improved this year, and USC will play them on the road too.
Pete Carroll is the best coach in college football in my opinion, and Trojan fans have to trust his judgment on this decision. I'm sure Barkley will not be asked to do too much, like the way Matt Leinart slowly came along in his first season as a starter (guiding USC to a split national title at that). But I can also understand any concern that Trojan fans might have about an 18-year old taking the reigns of one of college football's premier teams.
I discussed this subject -- as well as several other sports topics -- on The Filter with Fred Roggin this evening. Check it out.
What's a Marine Protected Area? It's like a national park for the sea. Areas of the coast are set aside as protected areas which, studies show, give the plants and fish and mammals a chance to retrench, regroup and repopulate.
Don't take my word for it. Heal the Bay has all the links and info you need. But consider this: 13 percent of the land on earth is under some sort of conservation care. Just half of one percent of the oceans -- .05 percent, if numbers are more persuasive -- are protected.
Here's an overview of what Marine Protected Areas can do, with links to letters you can send to support MPAs in general, and in Malibu and Palos Verdes specifically.
And here's Heal the Bay's everything-you-need-to-know MPA page, with links to government agencies, newspaper and magazine articles and studies.
Too busy? Then here's the single link you need to email your support.
Love the beach? Write a letter.
Tony Bruno has graced the airwaves in Los Angeles once again. Just a few weeks ago, I was highly critical of JT the Brick and Tomm Looney's show on AM 570, particularly their "analysis" of the Dodgers trade options.
I suggested that Fox Sports Radio consider replacing JT and Looney in the 7 to 10 PM timeslot with a syndicated program hosted by Tony Bruno, who I've always found entertaining. While Bruno doesn't know everything, at least he admits what he does not know, and he's actually funny. Well, this week Bruno officially moved into the evening time slot, and JT and Looney were pushed back to the 10 PM to 3 AM timeslot.
Now it will be interesting to see how Fox Sports Radio evolves. After merging with Clear Channel and AM 570, I learned recently that their licensing agreement to use the Fox Sports name expires within a year. What will KLAC be called in 2010? We shall see.
In the meantime, my own KSCR 1560 AM (KSCR.org) show has just two editions left. Tomorrow, we'll be on from 12 to 2 PM. Guests include Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com and Rivals, Joshua Robinson of the New York Times, former USOC Managing Director of International Relations Greg Harney, and Tampa Bay Rays Senior VP Michael Kalt will discuss the team's investment in the Florida Tuskers of the UFL. Next Saturday is our NFL Preview Show.
Hi, my name is David, and I'm a honker.
To be frank, I'm not sure this is a problem. I don't honk alone, and I can live without it. You'll never catch me laying on the horn when I drive by someone holding a "Honk if you love ... whatever" sign, though I always hit a few staccato bursts when I'm in a tunnel. But that's just superstition, like lifting your feet when your car goes over railroad tracks so your girl or boyfriend won't break up with you. (Do you think my therapist is right when she says it's bad luck to be superstitious?)
Honking IS annoying. I'd rather not. I would prefer a scrolling mini crawl board on my front windshield that the driver in front of me could read in his rearview mirror. But then he/she wouldn't be paying attention to the road, and I'd be texting while driving. Sigh.
Once, I used to indicate my displeasure with a familiar hand/finger gesture, but my wife made it clear way back then that she didn't think it wise to provoke unwanted gunplay. She had a point, even though this was Los Angeles and not Baghdad. Many years ago I had flipped off an offending driver, and he followed me for blocks shouting, "You give me the finger? You think I am a woman?" Wonder what his issues were?
It could be worse. I once read a sci-fi story . . . don't remember the author . . . but it was about how in the future all cars would be armored, and pack machine guns behind the headlights, and small missiles to blow up other cars in the way. (Sorta like "Mad Max" if Max was a cigar-chomping producer in his Hummer.) Part of the story took place on the southbound Burbank Blvd on ramp to the 405. I never use it anymore; I think you understand why.
There are many varieties of honking; it almost qualifies as a language. A long bray, often repeated, shows frustration. Think of being in a NYC cab, stuck in cross-mid-town traffic while fifty cabbies ahead blare in concert at a double-parked truck a block away, as if the combined cacophony would shame the offending driver into vanishing into thin air. Closer to home? How about being cornered in a jammed parking lot after a rock concert? Or on the PCH some perfect sunny summer weekend. (Or just rush hour.)
That's not how I roll (or don't roll, if you get my drift.) What's the point? I'm not about impatience when it's obvious I'm powerless.
Mostly I honk politely, in short single or double bursts. "Hey, the left turn arrow is green." "Hey, do you mind closing the car length gap between yourself and the car ahead of you on this short freeway on ramp so my trunk doesn't have to hang out in traffic? It's not like I tried to squeeze in at the last moment. There is plenty of room."
Sometimes the situation requires more, like when a driver wants to switch lanes and try to occupy the exact space-time coordinates that I do. Earth to driver. Wake up!
These days I honk more and more, and I don't mind saying it's not me, it's you.
On your cell phone (in one hand), wheel in the other, slowing traffic, drifting into my lane? Honk. On the freeway? Honk. Honk.
Refuse to pull out into the intersection for your left turn, meaning only you will get through the light? Honk.
Going 20 mph on Ventura Blvd in the left lane, while the driver in the right lane goes the same speed, thus trapping everyone behind you at parade pace? Honk.
Insist on racing through the yellow/red where my street intersects with Ventura Boulevard, as I watch, waiting for the green, realizing that had I pulled out normally you would have broadsided me, and killed a few people waiting at the bus stop, too? Honk. The bird, too.
What about those big white painted letters KEEP CLEAR, don't you understand? I'm trying to make a left turn here against a flood-swollen Mississippi River of traffic. Honk!
Did you have to be the last person to make a left through the light where Riverside meets Van Nuys Blvd, so that you block all the southbound traffic. What's the hurry? Honk.
Cutting in front of me on the freeway without signaling? Honk. Do it again? Honk.
You, in front of me, about to sideswipe the car next to you because you're not PAYING ATTENTION. Honk. Wake up!
Gesticulating wildly in the driver's seat either at your passenger or whoever's on the phone? Honk.
You, sauntering along the crosswalk, talking on your cell phone, when there's a line of cars trying to make a turn and you could maybe hurry it up a little bit. Honk. (Seniors, anyone with a walker, aliens from another galaxy excepted.)
Ever notice how whenever you want to make a left turn from the middle turn lane into a driveway, after the opposing traffic flow FINALLY clears, that there's always someone walking across that driveway just then? I don't honk. The universe works in mysterious ways.
And speaking about that specific middle turn lane: could you just pull ALL THE WAY in, parallel to the yellow lines. Your tail does not have to block half the left lane. Get out the way.
Afraid to pass the big truck in the other lane? Come on ...
Finally: you, climbing up my butt by following too close? Haven't got a horn for that, but I wish I had a "Back off M*****f***er" sign that flipped up in my rear window. If you're paying any attention maybe you'll see my hand waving you back. No, I'm not just saying hi -- though when you're courteous or generous, I'll always wave "thanks."
I understand uncertainty, new, and senior drivers. Sometimes your GPS unit is speaking in that weird German dominatrix voice you thought would be cute and amuse your friends -- and you will pay attention. There are many exceptions. Some days I just don't give a damn and calm envelopes me like an envelope of ... calm. I've been here long enough to accept that the California dream of the open road is ruined, at least within the city limits. And honestly, other than wishing it only took a real ten minutes on the 101 to get from the West Valley to the East Valley instead of 45 minutes - and worse at rush hour - I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere fast. I leave a half hour earlier. I'd rather get there safely.
I figure if you're in such a hurry, or are putting on your makeup/combing your hair/shaving/texting/arguing/popping zits/flossing, etc you are welcome to get to the accident before me.
I'm just trying to avoid one.
Honk if you agree.
*I've been away from Native Intelligence much of the summer; not driving, though. I've been watching in awe as my son Emmett, and his college roommate, Alex - both will be 19 yr old sophomores at the University of Chicago this September - finished writing TWITTERATURE: The World's Greatest Works in Twenty Tweets or Less, their humor book for Penguin Classics (US) and Viking/Penguin (UK). You'll be hearing much more about it and them in Oct/Nov/Dec -- and not only from me.
The Lakers lost a valued member of their coaching staff this week, as Kurt Rambis has been named the head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Rambis' departure will not only hurt the coaching staff, but it also mucks up the picture for Phil Jackson's successor.
For a while it had seemed that Rambis would follow Jackson as Lakers head coach, possibly as soon as next season. And quite frankly, I'm surprised that Rambis would take the Wolves job, given the likelihood he'd be handed the keys to the premier franchise in the NBA. I was under the impression that Rambis and his family were happy in LA, and he was just biding time until he got the Lakers top job. He turned down the Sacramento Kings head coaching job a few months ago, and it seemed like his situation with the Lakers was a primary reason. (He also reportedly was upset with the Kings only offering 2 years at an unsatisfactory salary)
Perhaps Rambis got tired of waiting for Phil Jackson to retire. Or perhaps he recognized that by the time Jackson did retire, he might get stuck with an aging franchise which had already experienced its greatest moments of glory, and he'd get caught in a rebuilding phase.
Regardless, he definitely has rebuilding project in Minnesota, and the Wolves' premier player, Ricky Rubio, is at least a year away from joining the team. Still, Wolves GM David Kahn is a sharp guy, and I think he will assemble a strong group of players that Rambis can win with in due time. Having Al Jefferson, Jonny Flynn, and Kevin Love is a nice start. Rambis may have found the idea of helping to build an organization from the ground up to be appealing. And who knows psychologically if he secretly relishes the idea of replacing Kevin McHale, the man who famously clotheslined him in the 1984 NBA Finals.
I think Rambis is a terrific coach, who has a great defensive mind and offers a voice of reason. I feel good about his chances of developing a young team into an NBA playoff contender in a low-pressure environment like Minnesota.
I don't think Rambis has ever gotten proper credit for his work in Los Angeles. He took over for Del Harris very early in the lockout shortened 1999 season, and immediately had to deal with turmoil that few rookie coaches could handle. Shortly after being hired, the Lakers signed Dennis Rodman, who brought his own issues. Rambis got off to a quick winning streak, and was widely praised by local fans and even Shaq.
Then, with a raging debate taking place in LA on how to handle both Kobe Bryant and Eddie Jones at the same position on the same team, the Lakers traded Jones and Elden Campbell to Charlotte for Glen Rice and JR Reid. Rambis had to figure out how to insert Rice into his scheme overnight, while handling an increasingly disruptive Rodman. All of this occurred while Shaq and Kobe were quietly starting their feud, and some teammates were upset that Jones had been traded. Rambis went 24-13 and got the Lakers into the second round of the playoffs, before losing to eventual champion San Antonio.
Many people in LA thought that Rambis would be given the Lakers head coaching job full-time, and some reports indicated that Jerry Buss was set to hire him. However, there was a sense in Lakerdom that a more established coach was needed to take the underachieving and drama-heavy squad to the next level, and Phil Jackson was openly lobbying for the job. Some fans called Buss "cheap" for considering Rambis, and he countered by giving Jackson a 5-year $30 million deal.
There was still loyalty in the organization to Rambis though, and he was named Assistant General Manager. Later, he befriended Jackson and become one of his most trusted assistants. By the time Jackson returned to the bench in 2005, after a yearlong hiatus, Rambis was established as the top assistant, ahead of Frank Hamblen and Jim Cleamons (who came back a bit later). Rambis periodically filled in for Jackson as head coach, and effectively ran training camp and an entire preseason in fall 2007.
There are many who felt that Jackson would finish out his contract this season, and that Rambis would take over for 2010-11. However, others think that Jackson can be talked into 2-3 more years, or as many years as the Lakers will enter the season as favorites to win the NBA title.
With Rambis in Minnesota, the debate is officially ignited on who will be Jackson's replacement. Some think that Brian Shaw might get the job. Shaw has been interviewed for several head coaching vacancies, and is widely regarded as an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. Jim Cleamons would be another candidate. He used to be Jackson's top assistant, and memorably coached the Lakers to a playoff game win against San Antonio in 2003 when Jackson had open heart surgery. Cleamons did poorly as a head coach with both the Dallas Mavericks and at Youngstown State, but those jobs were so long ago that one can't help to think he's improved since then.
Another name that keeps coming up in Laker circles in Byron Scott. A former Lakers guard, Scott guided the New Jersey Nets to two NBA Finals appearances and was NBA Coach of the Year in 2007-08 with the New Orleans Hornets. But Scott uses a modified Princeton Offense system that might be too much of a change from the Lakers triangle. His tenure in New Jersey ended badly, and it appears that things might be imploding in New Orleans, as evidenced by their playoff collapse against Dallas.
Still, these are questions that the Lakers might not need to worry about for a while, if Phil Jackson decides to stay for a few years. In the meantime, they've lost a valued member of the organization.
When you see white people toting their lawn chairs to MacArthur Park at dusk and settling in with Hollywood Bowl-worthy picnics, you know things have changed.
For years, MacArthur Park, in LA's Westlake area, was not the kind of park for picnicking or lawn chairs. Not even close. As LAPD Officer Covington, who has patrolled the park since 1996, said to me, the park used to be known as a scary place where murder, drugs and fake document sales reigned. "I've made arrests here," he said. But as the strains of Belgistan, a Belgian horn troupe, played in the background, the officer said that "now MacArthur Park will be known for music."
With an influx of state and private money, the park has been restored. Playgrounds have been added and grass planted. Landscaping and refurbishing turned the meadow lush. Instead of riffraff, families are now hanging out. Free music is the icing on the cake.
At the west end of the park is one of five bandshells restored around the country by Mortimer Levitt, who was a successful businessman. He remembered how much he loved hearing music outside when he was growing up. For his 90th birthday in 2006, he sold his business and decided to create his Levitt Pavilions. Two of them are in the Los Angeles area, one in MacArthur Park and one in Pasadena. The others are in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The bandshell, which has existed since the park's creation in the 1880's, has been beautifully restored, and the acoustics are stellar. Belgistan serenaded a gloriously diverse crowd of about 300 on a balmy summer night. The concert was one of 50 scheduled over the summer, every Wednesday through Sunday. The mood was light even as dusk turned to darkness. Spontaneous dancing ensued. It was a delightful night, and Mortimer would be proud.
The concert calendar can be found at www.levittpavilionlosangeles.org/en/calendar.html
Slide slow by Iris Schneider. See it in higher resolution at her website.
After nearly 20 dimly lit years of providing writers with a musty, unpretentious, AC-free place to write for hours on end, that most rare and wonderful location is expected to go dark forever. The counter staff says it's likely to happen before the end of the month, though no official date of closure has been set.
A letter to patrons that was recently taped to the front window says the closure is the result of a landlord-tenant dispute:
"We are sorry to inform you that due to the landlord refusing to renew our lease, The Novel Café after almost two decades will no longer be at 212 Pier Street ..."
Like a lot of writers, I've spent thousands of hours (no exaggeration) at The Novel during the past dozen years, or so. I've written the better part of two novels on those wooden chairs, and then some. In fact, I value and respect the place so much that I've gone out of my way to protect it. When people have asked where I like to write, I either offer them one of the less-favored locations, or straight out tell them that it's none of their business. For all the writing I've done there, I never wrote about The Novel. In fact, I cringed every time another tourist guide published nice things about it, knowing how these things go.
Places like The Novel on Pier Avenue are far too uncommon in a city full of writers, especially since Wall Street got into the coffee business.
This one was one the greatest. It will be missed a great deal.
But then the Rocky closed in February, and, like a lot of journalists who've found themselves in that situation in the past few years, ME knew right away that he was not going to find another job as a Washington correspondent for another newspaper.
So ... he purchased one.
Seriously. Someone actually bought a newspaper. My friend, ME Sprengelmeyer still believes in the power of print.
This week ME Sprengelmeyer became the proud owner of The Guadalupe County Communicator in his home state of New Mexico.
Having worked as a journalist myself in New Mexico for seven years, I was especially eager to talk to ME about this endeavor. He allowed me to record our recent conversation, and to post it online.
From a pay telephone on Route 66 in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, ME discussed the experience of being laid off, how one goes about purchasing a newspaper, and what he hopes to accomplish.
ME's first edition will be published later this week, so, as you might expect, his effort has captured the attention of many other writers. Today alone ME was featured at the blog of his former editor, John Temple, and he received a nice mention at Romenesko.
Best of luck, ME.
UPDATE: More observations about ME's endeavor at Fitz & Jen.