All Ball Sports: Doc’s out, Lakers are in, Dodgers cross fingers
by Paul Teetor
The shocking but not altogether surprising news broke Monday night: Doc Rivers is out as the Clippers head coach after seven up-and-down seasons. Owner Steve Ballmer and Rivers both said it was a “mutual decision” and added all the right things about respecting each other, best wishes going forward, blah, blah, blah.
But the cold hard truth is Doc’s latest collapse after leading 3-1 in a series – his third such collapse, the most by any coach in NBA history — was just too much for Ballmer to handle after all the great expectations raised by the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer. Doc pushed for both of them to come to LA, convinced Ballmer to trade the team’s future – budding star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a boatload of first-round draft picks — for George, and now is paying the price for George’s monumental choke job against Denver in the Western Conference semifinals.
With both Kawhi and George contractually committed for only one more season, the pressure to win a title is going to be even more suffocating next season. Whoever gets the job is going to be sitting in the hottest of hot seats.
Clippers assistant coaches Ty Lue and Sam Cassell are both former NBA players, have good relationships with everyone on the roster – it’s always easier to be friends when you’re just an assistant as opposed to being the head coach – and one of them could easily slide over one chair. But Ballmer likes big names that make big splashes, and former New York and Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy could easily be lured out of the broadcast booth, where he has provided insightful observations with a dose of self-deprecating humor to off-set the leaden heavy-handedness of his partner, former Golden State Coach Mark Jackson. If Van Gundy wants the job it’s his. But the best bet: Ty Lue.
Best frenemies forever
Get ready for a sight unseen here in more than a decade: cars flying Lakers flags. It’s a call to arms in what is shaping up to be a hoops holy war.
The war will feature LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers against Pat Riley’s Miami Heat for the NBA championship starting Wednesday night.
The revenge and payback story lines practically write themselves.
Riley, who led the Lakers to four NBA titles in the 1980s will take on a Lakers team led by LeBron, who led the Heat to two titles in 2012 and 2013.
LeBron broke a million hearts in Miami – including Riley’s – when he left to go back to Cleveland in 2014. Riley was not as publicly bitter as Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert was when LeBron left for the Heat in 2010, but privately he talked about backstabbing and betrayal.
Naturally his private bitterness leaked out into the gossip-hungry media. And of course all the stories about how Riley recruited LeBron by throwing his five championship rings down on a table and challenging him to come to Miami and win some for himself were rehashed yet again.
LeBron, who is very protective of his public image, was offended at being portrayed as an ingrate and a hoops mercenary without any loyalty to anybody except himself and his own career. He felt he had delivered for Riley – four straight trips to the Finals and two titles in four years – and that the president and general manager of the Heat should have been more understanding of his desire to return home and win a championship for his hometown fans.
There is nothing LeBron would like to do more now than to become the first player ever to lead three different franchises to an NBA title and in the process kick Riley’s ass.
Riley, meanwhile, was run out of LA in 1990 when his players mutinied after a decade of Riley’s maniacal, laser-focused micro-managing approach had worn thinner than used tissue paper.
After a four-year pit stop in New York where his bully-ball approach got the Knicks to the NBA Finals but did not win a title, Riley moved on to coach Miami. Within a couple of years he was also the general manager and soon became the team president while installing first Stan Van Gundy and then Eric Spoelstra as the head coach. Coach Spo, who worked himself up from the Heat video room, at first was viewed as Riley’s puppet and protégé. But he has now established himself as a great coach in his own right.
When the Heat stop celebrating their hard-fought 6-game Eastern Conference Finals win over the talented Boston Celtics, they will be facing an even bigger hurdle in the Lakers.
To start with, the Lakers will have the two best players in every game thanks to LeBron and his sidekick, do-it-all power forward Anthony Davis.
The burning question facing the Lakers as they entered the playoffs was simple: who would be that third banana every championship team needs to get them to the promised land. Most fans expected it would be forward Kyle Kuzma, a compulsive shooter who has shown signs over the years of breaking out but never has on a consistent basis.
The answer to that simple question turned out to be complex: one night it was point guard Rajon Rondo, the next night center Dwight Howard and the next game it was shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
So far, they’ve been doing it by committee. But now they’re entering a series where the third, fourth, fifth and sixth best players will be Heat center Bam Adebayo, Heat forward Jimmy Butler, Heat point guard Goran Dragic and sensational Heat rookie Tyler Herro, a shooting guard who scored 37 points in Miami’s pivotal game 4 win that gave them a 3-1 lead over Boston.
It’s shaping up as a fierce and fascinating finals, with two burning questions hanging in the balance: would LeBron’s fourth title elevate him over Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time, and who will Dwayne Wade be rooting for: his best friend LeBron, or the team he played on for 14 years and helped win three titles?
Prediction: Lakers in 7 games.
Dodgers forced to roll the dice
Over the long Covid-19 summer the Dodgers posted the best record in the major leagues, won their eighth straight Western Division crown, and now get the payoff: a chance to get bounced out of the playoffs after just two games.
That’s right: the shortest season in MLB history is now being followed by the craziest playoffs in history. An expanded field of 16 teams – and no, the Angels couldn’t make it even under the new format, wasting yet another year of Mike Trout’s prime – will force everyone to play in a best-of-three wild-card series.
As the top seed in the west, the Dodgers drew the Milwaukee Brewers. Their only reward for their historic season: all three games will be played at Dodgers Stadium – an empty Dodgers stadium, which pretty much negates the home field advantage – on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. New pitching staff ace Walker Buehler is set to open the series, with old staff ace Clayton Kershaw to follow Thursday night. If there is a third game, the Dodgers will pick from among flame-throwing kids Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urias.
But in such a short series anything can happen, including the unthinkable: the Dodgers lose the first two games and are done for yet another season without coming close to winning their first World Series since 1988.
If that comes to pass, cue the anguished wailing and gnashing of teeth by Dodgers fans.
Rams suffer bad loss, Chargers suffer good loss
Whatever the Rams are paying defensive tackle Aaron Donald, it’s not enough.
Already the highest paid defensive player in the NFL thanks to two consecutive pre-season holdouts, Donald led a ferocious Rams comeback from a 28-3 third quarter deficit to the Buffalo Bills.
But in the end, after scoring 29 consecutive points to take a 32-28 lead, the Rams let it all slip away and suffered a devastating 35-32 loss, thanks in part to a disputed pass interference call on a failed fourth down try that gave the Bills another chance to win
The Chargers, meanwhile, lost 21-16 to Carolina, but in the process confirmed what they had suspected after last week’s coming out party for rookie quarterback Justin Herbert: He is the real deal. He connected on 35 of 49 passes for 330 yards and almost drove the Chargers 99 yards down the field for a game-winning touchdown before a botched trick play ended it as time ran out.
Contact: email@example.com. Follow: @paulteetor
by Kevin Cody
Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com