It's pretty bold of Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to lay his basketball IQ on the line with the hiring of Mike D'Antoni. Kupchak insists the decision to pick D'Antoni over Phil Jackson was entirely basketball related. He told reporters:
"Without going into great detail, some of our guys, I don't think would be very successful in the Triangle," Kupchak said. "Some of our newer players might take a long time to learn the Triangle."
Added Kupchak: "He plays the way we see this team playing and our personnel executing, the guys that we have on this team."
I've always liked Kupchak, but you almost get the sense that he's putting his career on the line with this hire. If D'Antoni doesn't work out, then does that mean Kupchak should go? We know that the Jim Buss will never get fired, but the Lakers have a fortune invested in this roster with the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard putting them deep into luxury tax territory. We all know their window of opportunity is small, so picking the right coach is crucial. Kupchak has boldly decided that Mike D'Antoni is a better person to lead this team than a guy with 11 championships. If Kupchak is wrong, then wouldn't he have to be held accountable for such a high-priced failure?
Over the years, Kupchak and Buss have proven to be tenacious and savvy when it comes to maneuvering resources to acquire big names. Not many GMs have the "can do" attitude that the Lakers leadership has. But Kupchak and Buss have also proven below-average talent evaluators when it comes to acquiring depth. Part of that is because the Lakers trade away many of their draft picks for stars. Or the draft picks they do have are typically lousy. And they never have any room under the salary cap to bring in good role players. But the San Antonio Spurs have a ton of money invested in their Big-3, they have low draft picks too, and they manage to have great depth every year. The Lakers haven't done a good job of scouting players overseas and they don't have the use the advanced statistical analytic systems that are used by teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.
The Lakers get by on star power every year, and often times, it's good enough to win them a title. But I know the Lakers would be in a better position today if they did some of things that you see in the Spurs and Thunder front office.
I haven't weighed in on Mark McGwire being hired by the Dodgers yet. First, I believe McGwire is a disgrace. People have given him "credit" for admitting that he used steroids. I guess I would give him credit too, but McGwire also denies that the steroids helped him.
Like many athletes who have gotten caught using steroids, McGwire claims that his success came from hard work. But these athletes forget that's exactly the point. Many steroids, including androstenedione which we know McGwire took, allow individuals to lift weights more often than they would otherwise. Steroids can reduce the amount of time it takes for your muscles to recover from a workout or intense activity, thereby allowing you to "work harder" than you would as a normal human. I would like to see McGwire admit that steroids did help him, but I suppose that's water under the bridge right now with most fans.
With that all being said, I do believe that McGwire is a good choice to be the Dodgers hitting coach. He may have used steroids, but his IQ as a hitter was always sky high. He's proven himself to be an excellent hitting coach in St. Louis, as the Cardinals won the World Series receiving major contributions from out-of-nowhere young players like David Freese, Allen Craig, and Jon Jay. Older players like Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman saw career dramatic revivals under McGwire's tutelage too.
McGwire is a Southern California native, a USC alum, and he lives here in the offseason. He definitely fits with the area. I don't think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. But for the job as Dodgers hitting coach, he may prove to be the best the organization has had in decades.
The Dodgers are reportedly considering signing a number of expensive pitchers this offseason. One of the names that has come up is Hiroki Kuroda, who had a great 2012 season with the Yankees. While Kuroda would fit well in LA, I hope the Dodgers don't sign him. Why not?
Well, if the Dodgers did sign Kuroda, then they would be forced to forfeit their 2013 First Round Draft Pick (No. 19 overall) to the Yankees because Kuroda is a Type A Free Agent. The Dodgers desperately need to rebuild their farm system, and giving up first round picks will not help them for the future.
Furthermore, the Dodgers already have a rotation with stocked with recognizable names like Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, and they just acquired the rights to Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin. Now, Billingsley and Lilly have injury questions, and quite frankly none of these pitchers are sure things (Kershaw being a possible exception). But assuming they sign Ryu, then the Dodgers have seven starting pitchers under contract. Unless they know they can trade Capuano or Harang for a top prospect better than what they can pick at No. 19 overall, it's not worth it to give up a first round draft pick to ensure you have eight starting pitchers.
UCLA fans have every reason to be furious with the NCAA over their 10-game suspension of Shabazz Muhammad. Apparently he's being suspended because a "family friend" paid for him to take recruiting trips to Duke and North Carolina. Maybe if Muhammad had actually gone to Duke or North Carolina, then there would be something fishy about that, but assuming this guy really is a family friend, then I don't see how it's a big deal.
It certainly seems more benign than Cam Newton's father asking Mississippi State for $180,000 for his son to go there, and then after Newton attended Auburn, his father suddenly had the cash he needed to pay for renovations to his church in Georgia. I think that NCAA investigation actually took less time than NCAA's investigation into Muhammad's recruiting trip, and Newton missed zero games en route to a National Championship.
Am I the only one annoyed by the new Pac-12 TV deal? Sure, I think it's great that USC and UCLA are making a great deal more money to benefit their student-athletes. But letting networks wait until six days before gameday to pick a kickoff time makes it difficult for fans to plan ahead.
I know of several fans who had to completely overhaul their schedule and back out of commitments for this Saturday because they had just six days notice that the USC-UCLA game would start at noon. And speaking of the noon kickoff, I don't know of any fan who is thrilled about that start time. At least the game isn't on the Pac-12 Network, which I still don't get on DirecTV.
I know this will all work itself in due time, and ultimately, the money these schools are receiving is too valuable. But so far, the new Pac-12 TV deal hasn't been great for the fans. It would be nice if networks picked games two weeks in advance, and if there were more afternoon start times.
I used to do some consulting work for Chivas USA, so I'll be watching with great interest to see if Jorge Vergara can be successful in his efforts to revive the team. Vergara was previously a 50% owner of the team, but he took full control of the organization last month. He also owns its sister club Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico. Vergara says he will attempt to reemphasize the organization's roots without repeating its mistakes of the past.
I never had any contact with Vergara when I did work with Chivas USA, but I'm going to offer some unsolicited advice right here. Vergara should change the name of the club from Chivas USA to Chivas Los Angeles. While the goal of the organization was to be the Hispanic team for the United States, they cannot be successful without appealing to the local fan base here in Los Angeles. Putting "Los Angeles" in the name would help Southern Californians identify the team as one of its own.