Sports Beat, 7-13-08

--Earlier this week, I wrote that the Dodgers seemed to be playing better under Joe Torre. Then they lost 3 in a row to the Florida Marlins and continued to show why they are baseball's most inconsistent team. The Dodgers did rally back and beat Florida today (thanks to the golden arm of Chad Billingsley that almost no one is paying attention to), and are now just a game back of first place, despite having a 46-49 record at the All-Star Break.

Everyone seems to have their own theory as to why the Dodgers have struggled this season. Some have blamed it on injuries. Others have blamed the team's young players. I've also seen plenty of blame flown in the direction of General Manager Ned Colletti. But the best explanation I've seen comes from Jon Weisman on his DodgerThoughts blog, who lists 17 reasons why the Dodgers have disappointed in 2008.

In the meantime, Blill Plaschke spoke to Frank McCourt for a recent column, and it's now clear that Ned Colletti is on the hot seat. Much has been written recently about the "Dodger way". One hallmark of Dodger baseball was continuity. The Dodgers used to be the envy of the baseball world with their stable consistent management that seldom changed. But the team is now on its fifth GM this decade and sixth in the last 10 years. They've also had six managers in the last 10 years.

If the Dodgers want to be a successful team and restore the Dodger brand to what it once was, then they need to have a leadership team they can trust and one that will be given the time to build and execute a real plan. I would argue that the Dodgers last two GMs -- Dan Evans and Paul DePodesta -- are both excellent baseball minds who did not have a real opportunity to see their plans through. There are things that I do like about Ned Colletti, but we also have some philosophical differences. For example, I will never understand why a MLB GM would sign Juan Pierre to a 5-year $45 million contract, but I did support the Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones signings at the time, although both deals have turned out worse than anyone's lowest expectations.

A major part of the old "Dodger way" was building from within. Branch Rickey was the founder of the farm system, and the Dodgers are an organization that has always prided itself on creating a family atmosphere -- both at the ballpark and within the organization itself. As frustrating as it may be to watch growing pains as the Dodgers go through their current transition, building with their young players is the best way to go in baseball today. Veteran players are more likely to get injured and the Mitchell Report has cast a cloud over some vets' past performances. Also the game's current economics are strong, and more teams are signing their good young players to long-term contracts, thus reducing the quality of available talent both in free agency and at the trade deadline.

Whatever the Dodgers decide to do, they need a stable and visionary management team. They also need to show patience through transition periods and growing pains as a plan is developed and executed.

On another note, there are two excellent Dodger-related stories in the LA Times today. One is from Bill Dwyre, who recalls the experience of covering Al Campanis' unfortunate comments in 1987. The second is from Steve Lopez, who writes about legendary Dodgers chef Dave Pearson.

--Earlier this week, the Daily News reported that AEG may sell part of the LA Kings to outside investors. One potential group is led by Wyc Grousbeck, who owns the Boston Celtics. According to the report, AEG would still maintain control over the team, but they may bring in some executives from the Celtics to help run the Kings. I have a ton of respect and admiration for AEG, and they are certainly entitled to run the Kings as they see fit. But as a lifelong lover of LA sports, I have to admit that it would feel awkward to have a group from the rival Celtics playing an influential role at STAPLES Center.

--Speaking of AEG-owned enterprises, there's an interesting story in the Daily News discussing the experience of the Galaxy's foreign players.

--Ron Artest of the Sacramento Kings reportedly wants to be traded, and he'd love to be a Laker. He recently said that Phil Jackson was the type of coach who could bring the best out of him. But's Marc Stein reports that such a deal is unlikely, because the Lakers are unwilling to swap Lamar Odom for Artest. That would also indicate to me that the Lakers are intent on keeping Odom through the final season of his contract. It appears that the Maloof brothers like Odom though.

In the meantime, the Lakers are now mulling whether to match a 4-year $17 million offer sheet for Ronny Turiaf from the Golden State Warriors. The odds are against the Lakers matching. Some on talk radio have complained that the Lakers would be cheap to let him go, since they want to avoid paying too much of the luxury tax. But I think fans also need to realize that $4 million devoted to Ronny Turiaf annually will count against the salary cap, and in a few years that could be $4 million less than they have to acquire a big name player.

--I don't know quite what to believe in the whole Elton Brand saga, but between the David Falk negotiating ploys and Mike Dunleavy's comments, I do know this... if Elton Brand really wanted to be a Clipper then he'd be one right now.

If Brand had opted out and openly said he was exploring all his options, then I don't think he'd be criticized as much as he is right now. We can pick at Brand's words all we want, but he clearly led the Clippers and its fans to believe he wanted to return, and that he'd be more likely to do so if the organization improved. With the acquisition of Baron Davis, they did just that. I have to give credit to Davis for sticking with his commitment, even when few would have faulted him for bailing after Brand bailed.

As for Brand, it now appears that the money being offered from Philadelphia and LA was equal, and David Falk had to know that the Clippers would go as high as they could for him. I doubt they issued an "ultimatum", but they probably did tell Brand that $70 million was the most that they could do under the salary cap. When Brand waffled, they renounced the rights to some free agents, and went up to $75 million. Then they renounced the rights to more free agents, and were at $80 million.

Now the Clippers have renounced the rights to five players, including Shaun Livingston. Oh, and rookie Eric Gordon is already injured and will miss the remainder of the summer league. It's a tough time to be a Clipper fan.

--Earlier this week, we discussed the rumors about the Jacksonville Jaguars potentially being sold and moved to LA. But Sam Farmer in the LA Times, notes that it's not easy for the team to leave Jacksonville. The Jaguars have a lease that runs through 2030. They can get out of it if they can prove losses for three consecutive seasons, but that won't be easy in today's NFL. Even if they did leave, the team could be forced to repay tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the city of Jacksonville.

July 13, 2008 3:51 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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