Expect more layoffs at ESPN soon

If I didn’t know at least two of the journalists that ESPN laid off this week — the top cable sports network clipped about 100 people this week — I’d have said the downsizing was just.

Only it wasn’t. The network cut the wrong people.

Which means ESPN hasn’t learned its lesson. Which means they’re going to cut many more people sooner than you think.

This is not to beg ESPN to rehire the two dudes I know. I’m not going to name them. I’m not particularly close to them. They’re grown men. They can land on their feet.

No, this is to take ESPN to task for what led to the layoffs. What led to their falling ratings. It’s not about live-streaming sports on your smartphone. Despite what Breitbart News will have you believe, it’s not about an embrace of left-wing politics. It’s not a conspiracy theory at all. It’s not even style over substance.

It’s even worse. It’s style without substance. 

When layoffs were imminent, ESPN said it would downsize on-air talent because its news division had been cut to the bone. The two guys I knew were actual reporters. They broke stories. One broke national stories.

ESPN did trim on-air talent. It also hacked a lot of reporters this week. ESPN chiseled into the bone.

What made ESPN the place to be for that coveted male demographic was not the catchphrases or the hyperventilating sports columnist debate shows. We went to ESPN because its reporters had the inside dope. ESPN was the place to tune in for the NFL Draft, the MLB trade deadline, free agency, coaching changes.

In other words: Catchphrases and jokes are cute, but people will go out of their way to be informed. If it’s excellent information, they’ll become return customers for your information. They’ll be like the people who camp out in front of an Apple Store for an upgraded iPhone.

Jokes and opinions about sports? Hell, anyone can have that. I can do that. The guy with three DUIs at the end of the bar can do that. What makes his opinion any different than Woody Paige or Stephen A. Smith? Those hypespewers don’t break stories. They never did.

Oh, but at least we can still watch Jamele Hill and Michael Smith bump butts and dance at the start of the new slick version of “SportsCenter” — “SC6.” Yeah, that’s what we need. More unsubstantiated opinions, but this time it’s to the beat of a dope-ass mix tape. (To be honest, I only saw the butt-bumping on a commercial for the rebooted “SportsCenter.” I haven’t watched “SC6.” When I want to watch girls dance on TV, I go to Univision or BET.)

“SC6” is part of a misguided strategy that an executive outlined recently. He said he envisioned “SportsCenter” to be more of an entertainment show like “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, whatever the hell that means.

ESPN fell into the same trap that MTV did in the 1990s. MTV was a ratings juggernaut until it strayed from its core, music. MTV embraced personality over art and it never recovered. ESPN embraced personality over its core mission and people turned away.

Its core is sports fact, not opinion. As a result, the content simply isn’t good enough.

Therefore, ESPN simply isn’t good enough, either.

Expect more downsizing.

An epiphany about sports and politics

I despise everything about the Boston Celtics. I have for decades. It’s an almost unreasonable level of loathing, devoid of intellect.

I never had a problem with Kevin Garnett until I saw him win the NBA title against the Lakers. He seemed like a decent guy and a ferocious competitor. I respected him until I saw him kiss that evil, godforsaken leprechaun logo at center court. Speaking of that logo, I hate Boston for perpetuating the Irish stereotype that my family is comprised of tubby, dim-witted elves with a pipe, shamrock and a shillelagh.

Aside from the Lakers beating the Celtics for the title, I take great joy knowing that when Boston was at its nadir, Celtics fans chanted “MVP” for Kobe Bryant.

But it stops with what happened to Isaiah Thomas’ family in the last week. For those who don’t follow the NBA, he’s the Celtics’ best player. Just prior to the start of the NBA playoffs, his sister died. He’s grieving. It’s an awful situation and I feel horrible for him.

Which brings me to the epiphany.

I know far too many people who I believe would take a perverse pleasure if, say, Melania Trump died or faced a deadly ailment. To be honest, I’m confident many would have felt the same way of something horrible happened to Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama.

Which means — brace yourselves for this simple doozy — it can be argued that sports fans are better people than the faux intellectualism of political followers.

Yep. I’m saying the blowhard on MSNBC or Fox News isn’t as good a person as the drunk fat guy with the face paint and the foam finger. Oh, the guy might be delusional about the Cleveland Browns, but at the core of his being he knows he has flaws and will be more likely to help his fellow human change a flat tire.

Political junkies are worse because a) they think their societal beliefs are without flaw, and b) if you don’t believe as they do, they wouldn’t dump a bucket of urine on you if you were on fire.

Sure, sports fans can be obnoxious, but at worst, they live their lives through their teams. Political junkies live your lives through their worldview.

Put it this way: at the end of the work shift, who would you want tending bar? Ann Coulter would be too busy inspecting the immigration status of her coworkers. Keith Olbermann would be spelling out his own name in beer bottle caps glued to the wall. Bill Maher and Bill O’Reilly would push for “waitress spank Wednesday” and Glenn Beck would tell you to stop drinking because the end times are nigh.

Or would you rather raise a toast to Larry Bird or Joe Montana and say “man, I hated your guts back in the day, but you seem like a good dude”?

If so, you’re a far better person than you’ve gotten credit for. Now go watch the “NBA on TNT” with a clear conscience.

How Fox News factors life after O’Reilly

I know this is a minority opinion, but I kind of wish Fox News didn’t have to cut ties with its most-popular host, Bill O’Reilly.

Don’t get me wrong. If he did what people claim he did, he had to go. I get that. My problem is what the alleged “Fair and Balanced” news outlet will do in the aftermath. FNC has a history of lurching even further to the right when it makes personnel changes.

Consider:

  • When Alan Colmes left debate show “Hannity & Colmes,” the network didn’t even attempt to fill the opening and let Sean Hannity have the entire hour.
  • John Kasich was at least a moderate Republican, by all accounts. When he left, he was replaced by that insufferable and insincere hack Glenn Beck.
  • Greta Van Susteren seemed to have a level head on her shoulders. She left last year and was replaced by Tucker Carlson — once referred to as a “dick” by Jon Stewart for extreme right-wing punditry.
  • When Megyn Kelly left the network last year, presumably one of the victims in the sexual harrassment problems that bedeviled the network, Carlson was promoted to that spot. Carlson’s former slot went to an hourly nightcap that celebrated all things Donald Trump — a show called “The First 100 Days.”

While Fox News will take a ratings dent without “The O’Reilly Factor,” it will still pull better numbers than MSNBC and CNN.

I’m not going to argue that O’Reilly was 100 percent fair. That would be spin and I’d like this post to be a no-spin zone. His level of fairness is more for you to decide. What I do know from the times that I did catch a glimpse is that he at least made the attempt to get the other side of the story. Do you even get that attempt from Hannity? Did you get it from Beck? From anyone on MSNBC? Of course not.

So what’s FNC going to do? I would expect to see Carlson get O’Reilly’s spot. It also wouldn’t surprise me at all to see popular — and frankly, extremely hot — Internet conservative Tomi Lahren slide into the 9 p.m. slot that Carlson would vacate. (And yes, she is hot. So are Kimberly Guilfoyle, Ainsley Earhardt, Julie Banderas, Jenna Lee, Andrea Tantaros, Shannon Bream, etc. It’s not like they are coworkers.)

But I digress. In other words, Fox News will push further and further to the right.

This is not what people need when there’s a new president who has challenging decisions to make ahead with regards to Syria and North Korea, for instance. All political leaders need to be challenged on major decisions, but those counterpoints must be based on fact. Unfortunately, virtually everything you read about Trump is opinion. Emotion without the benefit of intellect, pro and con.

And I’ve been exhausted of slanted news in either direction for many years. You know one of the primary reasons that “fake news” has overwhelmed social media? It’s because traditional news outlets haven’t leveled with the audience. We don’t need another viewpoint. We need raw data.

We need people at least making the old-school journalistic attempt to get all sides of the story.

So yeah, if O’Reilly is a creepo, I kind of wish he kept that part of his personality to himself until he got home and looked at inappropriate websites like the rest of us.

LA Kings palace coup mostly makes sense

General manager Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter were fired after the Los Angeles Kings failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs on Monday afternoon. The moves from parent company AEG startled the teams’ fans who hadn’t had the chance to finish grieving over the retirement of broadcaster Bob Miller one day earlier.

By the way, that’s not meant as an insult on Kings fans. Miller’s words-eye view introduced millions on the west coast to the NHL for 44 years. And he was a good man, to boot. He should be missed.

Having said that, replacing Miller now becomes an afterthought instead of a priority for the team.

I mostly agree with the decision from AEG on Lombardi and Sutter, despite the two Stanley Cup titles won on their watch. Particularly with Sutter, it was time to go. Very few coaches and managers have lengthy runs with their respective teams for a reason, even with winning championships. No, Sutter didn’t forget how to coach. I would even argue he didn’t do anything particularly wrong, other than not give playing time to Kings prospects.

Over time, players tune out the message. Don’t be too hard on the players. That’s human nature. Fans claim to love coaches who are taskmasters, screaming and throwing tantrums. Players can live with it, but after a while the messsge becomes stale. Hell, in the 1980s, the Lakers won four titles with Pat Riley as the coach. At the very end, even Riley could tell Magic and the rest were tuning him out.

They didn’t hate him. They didn’t even disagree with him. They’ve just heard it all before.

When the Kings play a primal, physical game for six seasons under Sutter, how long before the players subconsciously think “OK, hit the other guy harder. I got it” before stifling a yawn?

Lombardi was a tougher call to me. I think he should have had the chance to find that new coach. Having said that, it’s possible he stood by Sutter. If that happened, you have no choice but to fire them both.

There is a case to be made against Lombardi. The Kings are in a financial mess — not in terms of profitability, but the salary cap. Marian Gaborik is still owed $15.9 million. Dustin Brown is still owed $25.5 million. Jonathan Quick is still owed $27 million. Anne Kopitar has 7 more years on his contract at an average of $10 million per year.

Even worse, Lombardi erred by keeping the floundering Mike Richards on the payroll when he could have cut him and saved money before a salary cap deadline. He didn’t, and Richards — who is no longer with the Kings, anyway — will get paid until 2032.

Former defenseman Rob Blake takes over as GM. I have no idea what his plan for the future is. I’m not going to fool myself and claim he can solve these problems.

But for the Kings to have reached the pinnacle of hockey twice, they simultaneously dug themselves a massive crater.

It only makes sense that the people responsible for the benefits be held accountable for the aftermath.

The Lakers are winning and I’m overjoyed

Let’s take a moment to make sure I understand the point of the Lakers losing at this time of year.

It’s to make sure they keep a draft pick in the top three. If they fall out of the top three, the pick goes to Philadelphia — as if the Sixers could do any better with it.

Keeping that top three pick by continuing to lose means, according to most mock drafts, the Lakers will get to choose an elite point guard in UCLA’s Lonzo Ball or a small forward in Josh Jackson of Kansas.

Didn’t the Lakers already draft to fill those needs? Didn’t the guard they drafted hit a three-point field goal as time expired to lift LA to a victory over Minnesota on Sunday? Wasn’t small forward addressed in the last draft with Brandon Ingram? Or Julius Randle three years prior?

Keeping a top three pick is no panacea for the Lakers. What fans haven’t noticed is this so-called disastrous four-game winning streak indicates the team — indeed, the franchise — is trying to cure itself. You should applaud that.

The Lakers are perilously close to becoming what the Sixers have been for far too long — a storied franchise obsessed with “the process” of getting better instead of simply getting better. The Sixers stocked up on picks for years and are still nose deep in the swamp.

Instead, Jeanie Buss — bless our little purple-and-gold nudist — willingly asserted herself in a family dispute when it became apparent the franchise with 16 NBA titles was nowhere near catching the Celtics. The franchise has clearly been scrubbing off the stench of ineptitude left by her brother, Jim. Remember, the only reason the Lakers are forced to tank to keep a draft pick was because of his foolhardy trade that brought a broken-down Steve Nash in the first place.

Under Jim Buss, the Lakers reputation had been so sullied they couldn’t even get a meeting with Kevin Durant when he was a free agent last year.

Not that I’m convinced everything new grand poobah Magic Johnson will find a miracle cure (please insert your own HIV joke here). Put it this way: The Sixers motto for years was “trust the process.” It seems that Magic’s motto to this roster is “trust in yourselves.”

What would happen should the Lakers keep the pick? You really want them to take Ball with his megalomaniac/racial provocateur father? How does that play in the locker room of a young team still finding an identity? How long before there’s infighting between Ball and D’Angelo Russell? How long before that idiot father of his claims Luke Walton can’t coach because he’s white?

If the Lakers keep the pick, great. If not, they either have a foundation with the three lottery picks they’ve already utilized or the Lakers need to look to free agency and trades.

Each win thus far suggests there might be hope with Russell, Randle and Ingram. Putting wins together makes a streak that is more than a sign of hope.

Winning streaks are a sign of what made the Lakers the franchise that it was.