Rapid reactions from the Lakers front office upheaval

About an hour ago, the Lakers announced that general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Vice President Jim Buss were both relieved of their duties. They were replaced, at least in the interim, by franchise legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson. I could repeat gripes that I’ve had about the team under Buss’ stewardship. Instead, I’d like to focus on what this means for one of the most recognizable brand names in sports.

All of what follows is filtered through the following prism: The good news for Lakers fans is not that Johnson is in, but that Buss is out. Why?

1) Magic would likely make a horrible GM, so the future of the franchise rests on his pick to run player personnel decisions.

It is an educated guess that Johnson would not be ideal to build a Lakers roster for two reasons. One, often in the NBA, successful coaches have significant say in building good rosters. Johnson served rather poorly as an interim coach.

Two, the greatest players in the game are often lacking in scouting talent. For every Larry Bird success story in Indiana, there is Michael Jordan’s mismanagement of the Charlotte Bobcats, and pretty much everything Isaiah Thomas has run in retirement.

Magic has a hit-and-miss record in his post-playing career. His hits have been incredible, such as owning the Dodgers. How terrifying are his mistakes? Aw, man. You really wanna know?

2) Please, Magic, do not make your first phone call to Kobe Bryant, which was suggested in news reports. See above. Because Bryant has been known to miss the mark badly, too. How terrifying? Aw, man. You really wanna know?

3) It does not matter that this move came two days before the NBA trading deadline. The NBA trading deadline features very few blockbusters. Baseball’s deadline does. Besides, unless the Lakers want to break up their alleged “future talent,” they have scant pieces to trade away. Reserve guard Lou Williams is pretty much it.

So what could Magic Johnson do to restore the Lakers?

1) Remind the players and management of their identity. No, I don’t mean wave a purple and gold flag around like a male cheerleader. The Lakers had a formula that worked for decades, only it was abandoned because Jim Buss made a series of impulsive, foolhardy decisions. First, they were going to be a defensive power under coach Mike Brown. Then they were going to return to the 1980s Showtime era with Mike D’Antoni. Now, they want to be a version of the Golden State Warriors and none of it worked because they simply can’t shoot.

This is a team without an identity. Fortunately, it had one for decades — the inside/out game. In the 1960s, inside to Wilt Chamberlain, out to Jerry West. In the 1980s, inside to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, out to Johnson. In the 2000s, in to Shaquille O’Neal, out to Bryant.

Maybe the team has the “out” in D’Angelo Russell. The Lakers need to do whatever it takes to find the inside game.

2) If that means trading Julius Randle or Brandon Ingram, so be it.

3) Support coach Luke Walton publicly, but privately inform him that this roster needs to follow a specific growth plan. For far too often this season, Walton has believed that in order for the Lakers to grow somebody in the younger core needs to step up. Be the leader. Demand the ball. That sort of thing.

At this point, Russell, Randle or Ingram have not answered that call.

That leaves it up to you, coach. You have to pick. Pick wisely. Pick now.

The Dodgers hopes rest on Joc Pederson

The reviews from computer simulators matched the forecast from the number crunchers in the Dodgers front office. Both think the Dodgers are the best team in baseball. Why, our algorithms match your algorithms! Let’s watch “Big Bang Theory” and imagine Mayim Bialik in a purple teddy!

They’re not the best team in baseball. Oh, the Dodgers are a pretty darn good baseball team, but they’re not the best.

The defending champion Chicago Cubs are better. They didn’t lose talent during the offseason with a young roster that only figures to improve. The Cubs knocked out the Dodgers 4-2 in the National League Championship Series and that divide was larger than two baseball games if you watched it. The Cubs exposed the holes in the Dodgers roster, so it was incumbent on LA to upgrade.

Which the Dodgers did — albeit incrementally by improving their infield. The Dodgers traded for second baseman Logan Forsythe in what could be a genius move. LA has an elite infield to go along with the best starting pitcher in the game, possibly its best closer and depth that is the envy of virtually every front office in baseball.

But its outfield is suspect at best, which is why the Dodgers hopes for ending a World Series drought at 29 years fall on center fielder Joc Pederson.

The Dodgers relied on the depth of their roster to plug outfield holes throughout 2016. Andre Ethier was injured at the start of that season. Ethier was by no means a superior talent but the drop off in performance — from Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson, Will Venable, Enrique Hernandez and Scott Van Slyke — was stark. A midseason trade for Josh Reddick wasn’t fruitful, and he’s gone.

It’s also time for even the most ardent Yasiel Puig supporter to admit he’s not the Cuban Mike Trout. Relying on Puig to figure out breaking pitches, baserunning and throwing to the right cutoff man is not a reliable wager.

Pederson improving is a bet with the odds more in your favor. Here’s why:

“Young Joc” arrived in Los Angeles two seasons ago with the fanfare befitting a can’t-miss prospect. Only after the All-Star Break of his rookie season, he missed a lot. He struck out 170 times in his rookie year and he average plummeted to a cringe-worthy .210.

Under the radar last season, Pederson’s performance spiked. Believe me, I recognize a .246 average with 130 strikeouts is no reason to crack open a bottle of champagne, but that’s 40 fewer strikeouts and an uptick of about 40 points in batting average. Anything approaching that level of improvement this year will put the 24-year-old on the fringes of being an All-Star because he slugged 51 home runs in his first two seasons. Consistent contact plus power is a frightening combination.

Simply put, Pederson is the only Dodgers outfielder with the potential to help close the gap on the Chicago Cubs. Ethier can’t do it. Puig won’t do it.

And that matters, because winning the National League West again simply won’t cut it.

Belichick’s best attribute: Making you think twice

I want to make this brief for all who claim the NFL is a pass-until-you-shred-your-rotator-cuff game.

Much like Super Bowl XLIX two years ago, when the Patriots edged Seattle 28-24, yesterday’s New England title came about because an offensive coordinator goofed and tried to outfox Bill Belichick instead of simply running the ball.

You might recall the Seahawks were about a yard away from victory on the final play of the game that year and instead of having an angry and lethal Marshawn Lynch seal the win by smashing into the end zone, Seattle elected to pass. Russell Wilson’s ill-advised lob was intercepted in the end zone and millions of people were in shock.

The Atlanta Falcons stormed out to their massive lead in Super Bowl LI yesterday due to the running game and damn sure lost it with the pass. How do I know? Davonta Freeman averaged more than six yards per carry, primarily with runs off-tackle to lessen the burden on center Alex Mack, who was playing the game with a broken fibula. Moreover, the team averaged 5.8 yards per carry. 

This, in turn, forced the Patriots to respect the run and opened up the passing game. In other words, a traditional football game plan instead of this stupid Madden video game throw-deep every play mindset.

The Falcons wound up losing that 25-point advantage, in part, with a fourth-quarter fumble by quarterback Matt Ryan who had no business passing in the first place. It’s the fourth quarter and they still led by 16 points. That turnover in Falcons territory led to a swift New England TD. Had the Falcons ran and failed to pick up the first down, the clock would have kept ticking and the resulting punt would have forced the Patriots to mount a much longer scoring drive.

Later, with the Falcons still clinging to an eight-point lead, Julio Jones nabbed an iconic reception that — had Atlanta held on — would have replaced Dwight Clark’s touchdown decades ago as “The Catch.” That play set up the Falcons at the New England 22. Run the ball three times. Kick a field goal for an 11-point lead. Game over.

Only the Falcons channeled their inner Seahawk. Somewhere Pete Carroll was grimacing at what he watched.

This is not to suggest that Ryan or Jones should be jettisoned and outgoing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should be replaced with a high-school coach who loves the double-wing.

This is to insist that the reputation of Mssrs. Belichick and Brady — their aura — makes people forget their damn common sense when you need it the most.

Common sense dictates you run the ball. It worked in the first half because it kept the Patriots on their toes. It would have worked in the second because it would have killed off most of the clock.

Run to set up the pass. Run to protect your quarterback. Run to protect the guy playing with a broken leg and for the love of the Lombardi Trophy, run to protect the lead.

Here ends the lesson. You should have learned it back in 2015.

61 but still counting

There used to be a commercial where a cartoon owl answered how many slurps it took to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop sucker. The answer was three because the owl got bored and bit through the thing. Can’t say I blame him. When you get asked a stupid question, you pretty much want to brush off the curious guttersnipe.

Millions of us have this annual resolution to lose weight, add muscle, whatever. Many of us chronicle that on social media with before/after pics, photos of us drenched in sweat, or video clips executing reps. I don’t have a problem with people who do. If getting random “likes” is encouragement you need to reach your goals, then have at it. As a side note, I want to encourage girls posting clips of squats, leg curls on your stomach and deadlifts. Yum.

But it begged the question: If somebody didn’t post to social media, how long before anyone noticed? If you keep at it, your body will surely change. If you are driven and go to the gym every single day, it would theoretically change faster. So how many days before somebody who doesn’t know you’ve made the decision to improve your health will ask if you’ve changed for the better?

It sure isn’t three.

It’s 61.

I hit the gym every single day — including Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Day — for 61 days before somebody asked if I’ve lost weight. I did, in fact, lose more than 25 pounds, add muscle and have to buy new clothes.

I don’t say any of that to impress you.

I say it because that’s a lot of f-cking work and you better have a maniacal resolve if you don’t post to social media for instant approval.

I began in early December because I’m not much of a New Year’s resolution guy. I have hit the weights often in the past. I have always been able to run for distance. A doctor didn’t order me to change. I simply didn’t like the way I felt. I also know your odds improve with women if you’re in better condition.

The regimen was somewhat strict: Shoulders and triceps on Sunday and Wednesday; biceps and chest on Monday; chest and back on Thursday; cardio Tuesday and Friday; legs and core on Saturday. Every session included a warmup run of a mile and a cool down of a half-mile. Every four weeks, I changed the workout for something called muscle confusion.

My goal wasn’t necessarily to burst out of my shirt. Monthly muscle magazines show a shirtless spray-tanned Steroid Lad wearing a banana hammock downstairs flaunting arms that have a bigger circumference than his head. These periodicals all claim to make your arms two inches bigger in about a month. I avoided those tips, because what’s the point of having massive arms if your face looks like Joe Piscopo?

I took my smartphone with me for that first session. Somewhere during the lateral dumbbell raise, I noticed it looked like I took a swim in my T-shirt. This made me happy. Progress, I figured. Then I reached for the phone, but it hit me: I was surrounded by dudes screaming bloody murder with every rep, tossing weights around, flexing in the mirrors. In other words, desperately needing the approval of the people — hopefully, the women — around them.

I’ve often believed you should be the type of man that impresses people simply by existing. Sure, you should constantly improve yourself, but it helps to limit the number of times you scream “be impressed!” If I can’t impress you by having performed as a comic, authored novels, written for newspapers, volunteering and helping the sick, why would it impress you if I screamed during a workout?

So I put the phone away, a conscious attempt to break the cycle of begging for attention.

Only after three weeks of going every day, I was hoping for attention that never came — not from friends, neighbors or coworkers. So I kept going back to the gym. And nobody noticed. So I kept going back. And nobody n… you get the idea.

This cycle — which was rather painful on a spiritual level as much as physical — ended last Thursday night at a coffee shop near an Orlando college. I was waiting for an open mic to begin and to my surprise, a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time showed up.

“You look great. Have you lost weight?”

Mentally, the bell went off. Stop the clock! Somebody noticed!

Only it was a dude.

So technically the clock stopped, but the regimen continues. I’m guessing it won’t stop until I do look like Joe Piscopo. For all I know, muscle-bound senior citizen guidos are what women want in the first place.

Raider World — London makes sense

The story broke late last night. Two likely investors in a major stadium planned for Las Vegas retreated because they weren’t sure the Raiders were a good fit. Without going into too much detail, the first guy owns the Sands hotel. He was allegedly miffed at team owner Mark Davis, possibly because of a lowball lease offer of $1 per year.

The second investor, Goldman Sachs, presumably got weary of being demonized in the press during an election year and chose to take a refreshing nap on its mountain of cash.

Now I don’t want to overreact, because these could all be negotiating ploys, but let’s assume for the moment that the Las Vegas Raiders aren’t going to happen. Because the usual suspects are lining up to court the Silver and Black. 

Most of these suitors are comically ill-prepared. For instance, a columnist in San Diego thinks the Raiders should occupy the same roach motel the Chargers abandoned last month. Hey fathead, if you’re going to appeal to an NFL team, an excellent first step is not to insult the owner in the first paragraph, especially when you look like an assistant manager at a Circle K. And judging the way print news is going, you might want to dust off the resume because the graveyard shift is calling. Now get a mop and clean up the mess in front of the Icee machine.

For that matter, you might want to scratch off Oakland. It’s not impossible, but I was a season ticket holder up there. I completely understand why the Raiders want new digs and building new arenas in California is damn near impossible.

This leaves a handful of places left across the country. Portland is intriguing, but has never been home to anything bigger than the NBA. San Antonio has a stadium, Texas loves football and Dallas owner Jerry Jones was a longtime friend of the late Al Davis. Houston might not be OK with that, though.

I liked St. Louis, but let’s be real: That city lost two NFL franchises.

Now that I live in Florida, I often think the NFL is curious about Orlando. Problem is, I’m literally two hours by car from the Jaguars and Buccaneers. Both teams aren’t that popular. I can’t see Jacksonville and Tampa letting go of central Florida.

It’s when I started thinking about Oklahoma City when the obvious solution hit me.

London has 8.7 million people, which would make it the league’s largest city (New York is at 8.4 million). There’s a stadium there already put to use by the NFL. The league has worked tirelessly to accommodate teams to play there. Local politicians want the NFL. There are now what, four games in London every year? That’s half a regular season as it is.

In those games, the league often schedules two horrible teams to play. Wembley Stadium is still filled to the brim.

And frankly, it’s significantly safer and less smoggier than another international option: Mexico City.

This is not a prediction as much as it is an argument for a better option. Simply put, there is too much money on the table for the Raiders not to consider moving there. It makes more fiscal sense to expand Raider Nation to Raider World than it would to move from one horrible stadium to another.