Sports Update: Lakers Win NBA Finals, Padres Struggle
Monday, June 15, 2009
The Los Angeles Lakers are back on top...for the fifteenth time in the franchises history. Kobe Bryant and the Lake-show proved their dominance last night as they cruised to a 99 to 86 victory over the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals. In other local sports news, the Padres have a new owner, and have drafted a hot high school prospect from Georgia. And former Chargers Quarterback Ryan Leaf is in the news once again, and once again not in a good way.
DOUG MYRLAND (Guest Host): I'm Doug Myrland and you're listening to These Days in San Diego. The Los Angeles Lakers are back on top for the fifteenth time in the franchise's history. Kobe Bryant and the Lake Show proved their dominance last night as they cruised to a 99-86 victory over the Orlando Magic in the NBA finals. And in the other local sports news—I didn't know there was any other sports news other than the Lakers—the Padres have a new owner and have drafted a hot high school prospect from Georgia. And former Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf is in the news once again, and once again not in a good way. And here with us to talk about all of that and more is one of the nation's best sports broadcasters, Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton. Lee Hamilton, I'm pleased that you're able to talk sports with us this morning.
LEE HAMILTON (Sportscaster): Good morning, Doug. Nice to be part of your show on These Days and chat with everybody at KPBS.
MYRLAND: Well, Lee, let's start with your thoughts about last night's game and, in general, the five-game series that we all saw with the Lakers and Orlando.
HAMILTON: Well, I think at the end of the day the Lakers just had a lot more talent and, obviously, a lot more playoff experience. And as that series wore on and on, even though you could see Orlando play very well in spurts, they just never could be composed enough to play the full 48 minutes they would need to play. I mean, they almost won a game in L.A. they probably should have won. They blew a game in Orlando that they had in their pocket and even last night they had a nine point lead early but they could just never finish off. They were very undisciplined. That being said, the Lakers have this wealth of talent, this tremendous basketball intelligence led by Phil Jackson, and, obviously, maybe the greatest individual player in modern day NBA fame in Kobe Bryant, so there are just too many things stacked up against Orlando, coupled with their immaturity and youth that kind of worked against them. It's not the finals I don't think we expected to see and the whole world expected to see, LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant, Cleveland versus L.A. but Cleveland didn't have enough components around their superstar whereas the Lakers did.
MYRLAND: And speaking of Kobe Bryant, do you think that we really have seen a significant change in Kobe or is it really the whole Lakers organization that's just stepped up their game?
HAMILTON: Well, history will write that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal won three NBA championships in their span together. And I've said many times on our talk shows on XTRA Radio that I really thought history should also write that their bitter divorce would lead to the collapse of the Lakers organization, and it really did. They've not won a ring since Kobe and Shaq were together, since the Kobe-Shaq divorce. Kobe took an awful lot upon their shoulders to be the next Michael Jordan. A great individual player, not necessarily a great, great teammate, and the team did not have a lot of success. But with the arrival of some other components, the trade for the seven-foot Spanish forward Paul Gasol, the arrival of the young teenage big center Andrew Bynum, the development of Lamar Odom, they had a lot of things around that superstar player, and I think the history proves the superstar player could not do it by himself. And now that they've got all these other things there, they win the ring. Kobe, the albatross is now off Kobe's shoulders and neck. He is – he's got another ring, his fourth. That equals what Shaquille O'Neal did. And Phil Jackson, the mastermind of all this, gets his tenth ring and that's an all-time NBA record, beating the legendary Red Auerbach.
MYRLAND: Well, you know, there's lots of credit to go around and you mentioned several players but two you didn't mention were Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza and these guys are role players but they really seem to step up their game as the pressure comes on. Do you think that they really – there really is such a thing as a clutch role player? Or is it just the excitement of the finals and we all sort of focus on their performance then or are people, particularly like Derek Fisher, better under the pressure of a finals game?
HAMILTON: I think from Derek Fisher's standpoint, having done it so many times before, I mean, he now has four rings, too. How about that? Having done that so many times before, he knows what to expect, he knows the intensity level, he knows how to survive the ups and downs of a final championship series. In terms of Trevor Ariza, he's a kid out of UCLA who left school early, probably should not have gone to the NBA, bounced around a little bit but he finds a home on a very, very good basketball team. And I think he's got great raw talent and I think what you find is when the Kobe Bryants and all those starters wear down the opposition and then they bring in a kid with a specific raw talent, who's probably better than Orlando's reserves, that kid should succeed. And Ariza knocked down a bunch of big baskets, had some very strong defensive plays, etcetera, so I just think from the Ariza standpoint, it's right time, right fit, right situation.
MYRLAND: Him being from UCLA, does that really make any difference in a big town like L.A.? Or is that not – not a…
HAMILTON: I don't think it's really part of the equation. I mean, he's a known commodity here just like one of his teammates, Jordan Farmar, who's a young guard that they drafted out of UCLA two or three years ago. He's a known commodity but, you know, I don't know that he would have played this well had he been a Sacramento King because they had a lousy team. He just happened to be surrounded by very good people, asked to do a certain role, and did it very, very well.
MYRLAND: I want to ask you one more Lakers question and then my producer's going to make me move on. I can talk about the Lakers all morning. But Odom and Ariza are both going to be free agents this year. Who do you think the Lakers should prioritize going into the off season?
HAMILTON: I think winning supersedes everything, Doug, and I think that Lamar Odom will take a pay cut to stay in L.A., maybe a Laker discount. That will free up some salary cap room to resign Trevor Ariza. I do think you're going to see some players at the bottom end of the roster be moved off this roster. I think they're very disappointed in the Lithuanian guard who's played very poor, Vujacic. I think he might wind up getting traded somewhere for just a conditional draft pick. I think they'll rearrange some dollars so that they can keep both. I might be in the minority. I don't think that the Lakers have to get rid of one of those guys. I think they can keep Odom and Ariza. I also think the other big story, and it's not getting a lot of traction yet but I would bet before the end of the week this is going to be a story: Does Phil Jackson want to stay? He has now won ten rings, he's been to the top of the mountain multiple times, he's proven a lot of different things. He's got significant health issues. You know, he's north of sixty years of age. He's had problems with infections and multiple hip surgeries, and the wear and tear in travel on a coach is very hard. I would not be surprised by the end of the week to find out that Phil Jackson has elected to go off into the sunset, so that story bears watching.
MYRLAND: Well, let's just – since we're wildly speculating, let's speculate about maybe Phil having a role to play with the Lakers in management. I mean, he has a relationship with the boss's daughter. Maybe it isn't off into the sunset, maybe it's off into the front office.
HAMILTON: No, I don't think so. I don't think Phil likes that grind and that is a very different grind in terms of scouting and being on the road even more than you are on the road as it relates to being a head coach. Head coaching jobs are very hard, Doug. It's just not game day and game night. It's practices, it's staff meetings, it's enormous amounts of hours in terms of film work you do behind the scenes that nobody ever pays attention to. I would not be stunned to see him walk off with this ring and say goodbye to the NBA. And he's a very eclectic and a very different, different guy.
MYRLAND: Hmm. Well, let's move on to talk about the Padres. The expectations for the Padres were pretty low going into this season and the team did have a ten-game winning streak a few weeks ago. They lost three in a row to the Angels over the weekend, so what's your assessment of the team so far?
HAMILTON: Well, it's been a very streaky team. I thought last year was an aberration. You don't lose your two starting pitchers, the aces of the staff, Jake Peavy and Chris Young, for extended periods without it taking a toll. I mean, they wound up losing 99 games but that was in part because two of their front line pitchers were gone. Now they got this problem with Peavy gone eight to twelve weeks with the torn tendon in his ankle, and the other veteran starting pitcher, Chris Young, just not looking right. He's had a couple of very, very bad starts. I hate to say that they may be headed towards a 100 loss season…
HAMILTON: …but at this point in time, they have no veteran pitching that they can trust and lean on. The rest of their staff are free agents and guys off street corners and guys that dragged out of the minor leagues and been given an opportunity to, and it's really going to be hard right now for them. This will be a very interesting second half of the season. Do they trade one or two of their veteran players and just get into complete rebuild mode? Or do they try to tread water until Peavy comes back sometime maybe in August or even in September. Another question to pay attention to is what happens with new leadership, new ownership? Does Jeff Moorad really have the resources because he's only bought a piece of the Padres. Does he really have the resources to run this thing correctly? And I don't think a $40 million payroll in this market is the right way to be running this franchise. I think there's a huge issue about where Moorad takes this thing, how much John Moores will still be involved in this thing. And then the third piece of the equation, you mentioned it at the forefront of our conversation, has to do with the draft pick. They signed a tremendous young talent – or, drafted a tremendous young talent in Donavan Tate, a high school superstar from Georgia but the question is, does the kid want to play baseball? The kid has a full scholarship offer to go to North Carolina. And are the Padres willing to pay the price, and the price is probably going to be about six million dollars, hardcore, guaranteed bonus money and that's pretty pricey for a small market team. So this storyline bears watching over the next group of weeks. They have until mid-August to get him signed or otherwise they lose their rights. So there are a lot of balls in the air right now as it relates to the Padres' roster, the Padres' ownership and the Padres' future.
MYRLAND: I want to ask you a couple of questions about the new owner but first I want to ask one more about Jake Peavy. Do you think his injury affects the possibility of him maybe being traded?
HAMILTON: Well, I'm not sure that he's tradable this morning. He might be tradable four weeks from now if he makes tremendous progress in his rehab from this tendon injury in the ankle. But, again, he has a full no-trade clause in his contract. It's not as if you can pick up the phone and you can trade him to the Washington Nationals or the Pittsburgh Pirates. He's already rejected a couple of trade potentials. He want – I would much rather keep him. I just don't think you can go around continuing to deal away all your commodities and think you're going to have any credibility in the community. I would rather see them keep him, keep Chris Young, continue to develop players through the farm system. But that's going to take a significant amount of resources from that new ownership to continue to develop this. We'll tell you down the road they've got a load of young players that – deep in their minor leagues, not ready to come to the major leagues yet but deep in the minor leagues. And I think you'll see some of these kids surface in the next year, year and a half but to get from this point today to that point a year and a half from now is going to be a little bit painful.
MYRLAND: We did a little speculation before the show, my producer Hank Crook and I, about Jeff Moorad. And I'm intrigued by the idea that this is a person who's been an agent. You don't see that career path to ownership very often. And I wonder what sort of a role he's going to be playing given his experience dealing with players and negotiating contracts. I wonder if that's going to bring a little different kind of atmosphere in the front office…
MYRLAND: …than you normally expect.
HAMILTON: …that's a really intriguing question. And when he was an agent, he never gave a club a break and now that he's on the other side of the street corner, I don't see the agents that used to be partnerships with him giving his club a break. Now the baseball is run by player-agents, it's all about the bank, how much money I can get, how much it's going to cost you to get my client there. I don't think there'll be very many San Diego discounts. But that being said, the bottom line as it relates to Padre baseball is you've got to draft well, and the Padres draft track record dating back fifteen years is horrific. Out of the last fifteen draft picks, Doug, they have one player. One player out of the first round choices that's made an impact and that was Khalil Greene and he did well for a couple of years and then fell apart and eventually was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. They have none—none of their first round picks over the last fifteen years have made an impact on the club and that's why they are where they are right now. So at the end of the day, this will be about Moorad and their philosophy about player procurement. And did they have a good draft? I thought they had a very good draft this past week getting two very good outfielders and a bunch of strong arm pitchers. Now they got to get them signed and they got to develop them and they got to hope none of them break down along the road in the minor leagues. But I'm a firm believer that you do it through the farm system and you use free agency only to pick up, you know, a key player that could fill one hole. You can't load your roster with high-priced players. It breaks the bank and, again, the fatality rate of high-priced free agents is pretty high, too.
MYRLAND: You characterize their drafting over the last fifteen years as horrific, so does General Manager Kevin Towers just get the blame for that?
HAMILTON: No, I think they've gone through a wide number of different scouting directors and I think they also went through a wide amount of different philosophies because for every scouting director who came in—and some of this is also dictated by ownership—for every guy that came in, he had a different approach to things. And even though Towers is the general manager, really it's the scouting people that I think have a larger input there. I went back and did a research piece for one of the new websites here and if, you know, you have a chance check it out on sdnn.com, I did a research piece, an essay, on Padre drafts going back fifteen years. And if you look at the players they bypassed versus the players they took who failed, it would turn you upside down. The Padres could've had Justin Verlander, the ace of the Detroit starting rotation, they could've had CC Sabathia. They bypassed on those guys. They bypassed on a significant number of everyday players on other ball clubs. It's just absolutely stunning. So – And, again, this is a byproduct of different draft directors with different philosophies and, in some cases, ownership not willing to spend the going rate to sign quality draft picks. That has to change under Moorad. We'll see. If he can get this group at the top of this draft board signed, then you'll say they're headed in the right direction.
MYRLAND: The other thing we wondered about about his approach as an agent is, if he – you know, agents have to know, get inside the heads of the players that they represent. They have to have good relations with their clients or they're going to move on to another agent. I wonder if he'll bring a special sort of skill relating to the ballplayers to the front office that maybe hasn't always been there?
HAMILTON: Well, he was very successful in a limited amount of time—I'm talking about Jeff Moorad when he ran the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he walked into a very tough situation there. Arizona was an expansion team, they had spent enormous amounts of money in free agency. They got themselves involved in a very sticky situation with deferred contracts and that was – at one point, was eating up – I think there was at one point they owed $130 million in deferred money to players that were no longer on the roster. That's a very bad way of doing business. It's like the wife and the credit card. And it really hurt the Diamondbacks franchise. And Moorad came in, they paid off some of them, they restructured some of those deferred contracts, and they stabilized the economics of the Diamondbacks team all at the same time while they were drafting very, very well. Arizona's got a ton of very good young players. Now they've force fed them and they're all struggling at the major league level, they've been a very erratic team, but I think Moorad has an enormous amount of experience with, quote, small market baseball and that probably helps San Diego in terms of his approach as to how to deal with this market. And, trust you, this is a beautiful city and this is a big market as it relates to population base but it's a limited market in terms of how much revenue you can generate from baseball fans. I mean, this market is only 2.5 million, that's all there is. You know, you've got the desert to the east and you got Shamu to the west and you got tequila to the south and you got Vin Scully and the Angels to the north. There's not lots of ways to expand the fan base here in San Diego. We are really kind of cordoned off from the rest of the baseball map. But I think Moorad's ability and background is going to help him a great deal in terms of how to package and how to make this small market team click.
MYRLAND: Well, speaking of exciting the small market fans, SDSU pitcher Stephen Strasburg was the number one draft pick, taken by the Washington Nationals. Why was he the first pick?
HAMILTON: Well, he is one of the best college pitchers we have seen in decades. He has a wide variety of repertoire of pitches. He's a big physical kid. Tony Gwynn did a masterful job handling the development of Stephen Strasburg. We have seen, in college baseball, Doug, in years gone by where a coach would have a gem of a pitcher and he would ride that pitcher hard and use that pitcher a lot and get to the College World Series irregardless of what happens to the pitcher's health. Tony Gwynn did not do it that way. Tony Gwynn pitched Stephen Strasburg once a week. He limited his number of pitches per outing. The kid threw, I think it was, 109 innings to the season, which is a lot of innings for a college pitcher but they were not stressful inj – innings. He didn't use him on a Friday and bring him back on Sunday, etcetera. So Tony is getting a lot of accolades from baseball people for handling that kid pitcher very well. But they say he is the best since Mark Prior came out of USC seven, eight years ago. He's going to get a huge payday from the Washington Nationals, the number one team – who had the top pick, it's also the worst team in baseball right now. But this'll be an interesting couple of months going towards that deadline date that I mentioned because he is represented by Scott Boras who's just an outright militant. Boras is great at over-selling, over-hyping the talent and then asking for an extraordinary contract. I mean, they're dropping hints that they want a deal between $25 and $50 million for Stephen Strasburg. Now I don't know that Washington would ever pay that. It would blow up the whole salary structure of top draft picks. But this bears watching. He's a very good pitcher, he's been handled correctly, he's going to get a good payday. I just don't think it's going to be real easy, though, to get this kid signed.
MYRLAND: Well, and he's certainly going to face enormous pressures, you know, financial and the spotlight focusing on him, and that kind of leads us up to the subject we wanted to get to toward the end of this segment and that's Ryan Leaf. You know, when you take somebody that young and put enormous pressure on them, sometimes they don't react in the way you would hope they would. You know, still talking about Strasburg and the way he was dealt with skillfully by Tony Gwynn, you know, what kind of advice do you give to teams to say, look, don't ruin this person. Understand the challenges that they face.
HAMILTON: Well, I think it all has to come from within the person. I think that's the difference. We don't know how Strasburg's going to turn out. He may turn out to be a gem of a prospect like Tim Lincecum, the number one draft pick of the Giants, who was a great college star to himself at Fresno State. You hope he doesn't turn out to be like a high school pitcher by the name of Jeff Allison who was a very high number one draft pick of the Florida Marlins and then, because he had all this money, he went off the track and OD'd on heroin and his career has gone into rehab. You never know about Ryan Leaf, although Leaf's situation, I think, was more of his own doing than it was anything else in terms of lack of preparation, lack of maturity coupled with being on a bad football team. And Leaf's life is really off track now. He will turn himself in to Texas authorities, I believe, this coming Wednesday. He's facing a nine count indictment for illegal obtaining of pain-killing pills, a breaking and entering theft situation, which he stole pills and then another charge in which he distributed painkillers to other players at a college that he was working at. He's since been forced to resign. But I think all of Leaf's problems were of Ryan Leaf's makings, for the most part, just like they were with the Florida Marlins pitcher Jeff Allison. You can…
HAMILTON: …you can interview them, you can work with them, but it still has to come from within them to be a pro's pro.
MYRLAND: Well, I want to plug your column on sdnn. You also wrote, I thought, an insightful and interesting column about Ryan Leaf, so if somebody's more interested in that subject, they could certainly look at that. We've got less than a couple of minutes left and I do want to have time to ask you about Phil Mickelson and the challenges he's facing with his wife's illness and him playing in the U.S. Open this coming weekend.
HAMILTON: Well, we had a very emotional weekend just this past weekend concluded. Phil had taken a leave of absence because Amy is battling breast cancer. Hopefully, this will be a positive because they think they have caught it very early. She's really been a special person in his life and a very special person as it relates to an awful lot of the charities that Phil Mickelson has been involved in. Of course, Phil is from here. He now lives over in Scottsdale. But he walked away from the tour, obviously, with the shocking story of what had befallen Amy. He held his first press conference on Wednesday at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis. That was the first tournament back. And he was very emotional and he very much opened up. I was absolutely amazed at the outpouring of emotion from the fellow golfers on the PGA tour. A lot of guys showed up wearing pink. Pink is the color representing the fight against women's breast cancer. It is just – you know, to me it's spectacular these guys who probably are not very friendly to each other because they're such competitors would spend the time and extend an emotional hand to Phil Mickelson. Now, we'll go into the U.S. Open this weekend, this coming Thursday, at Bethpage Black in Long Island, a very tough course and it has a very different feel. Normally, there would be such electricity because Tiger Woods is going to play and Phil's going to play and they are the best two that we've got in modern day golf. But, you know, each is fighting their own fight. Tiger's had to come back from reconstructive knee surgery, the death of his father and the fact that he's become a two-time father, so he's got some other things in his life that have taken away from his game. And, of course, Phil is trying to get his game back. I think the most revealing thing was that Phil said on the press conference in Memphis, that those four to five hours for him on a golf course right now are a safe haven. But it's been great to see the golf community put its arms around Phil Mickelson.
MYRLAND: Well, don't you think it also says something about the respect they have for him as a human being, as a person? You know, maybe not every pro golfer would get that same kind of show of support.
HAMILTON: Yeah, I think that guys who self-destruct don't get a lot of support on the tour. I mean, there's nobody extending a hand to John Daly for all the junk that he's gotten himself involved in. But when you've got other golfers whose wives died of cancer, I mean, they're – it's kind of very unique in a very different community and, yes, Doug, you are correct, what those guys have done, is truly not only just a sign of friendship but it's a sign of respect for the other professional that Phil is.
MYRLAND: Well, speaking of professional respect, Lee Hamilton, it's always a pleasure to share a microphone with you and have you on the radio. Thank you very much for joining us and I hope that we can get you back real soon because there's lots to talk about.
HAMILTON: Doug, my pleasure any time. Glad to do it for the friends at KPBS and we'll chat with you again.
MYRLAND: All right. Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton our guest this morning, talking about sports and you're listening to These Days in San Diego. I'm Doug Myrland.