Andrew Bogut/Stephen Curry/Jerry West; Jim Harbaugh/Peyton Manning; Pablo Sandoval/Barry Zito; Tiger Woods; Manny Ramirez
THERE’S REASON for hope about the Warriors, but not because of the plan by their owner, Joe Lacob, to build an arena on the waterfront in San Francisco.
The Warriors got a bit of luck in the lottery for a change, retaining their No. 7 slot and the pick that goes with that, and they had already done a good job of stockpiling draft picks through trades and money. Now, they have alternatives. New general manager Bob Myers has said that, with an already young team, he doesn’t want to bring in six more rookies, so you can expect more wheeling and dealing in the months to come.
Health will be a big issue for the Warriors next season because two of their most important players, Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry, ended the season on the disabled list. Bogut could be the big man they need to get a balanced offense because he can both score and rebound. Curry is a very good point guard, able to score and set up teammates with equal facility. Though Monta Ellis often put on great offensive shows, the Warriors were never going to win anything with an Ellis/Curry back court, so it was a good idea to trade him – a suggestion I’d made the previous year.
Defense should be a priority, in the draft and in trades, because the Warriors still don’t have anybody who can play well on that side of the ball, an ongoing failing since Don Nelson first arrived. Though Nelson played on a Celtics team that, with the arrival of Bill Russell became as good on defense as it had been on offense, he never did anything about improving the defense. He relied on outscoring the opposition, and bewildering them with unusual lineups. That worked to a point, but his best teams got eliminated before the NBA Finals, and by the end, they weren’t getting that far.
It’s impossible to judge Mark Jackson as a coach with all the dehabilittating injuries the Warriors suffered last season but I like the front office they’ve put together. Myers, a former agent, seemed a strange choice when he was brought in as the assistant to general manager Larry Riley – and clearly intended to be his successor – but he’s bright, young and energetic. As a former agent, he knows the players well, and he’s already shown he knows how to work the league’s rules. Riley has a good eye for talent, and he’ll be used in that role.
And, of course, there’s Jerry West. Significantly, West stayed mostly in Los Angeles early on, as Lacob was working so actively in the operation. Lately, he’s been more involved, and the Warriors can only benefit from his expertise.
Also, Lacob may be occupied with his latest pipe dream, the arena on San Francisco’s waterfront. As one who has been close to the various stadium/arena/ballpark battles in San Francisco, I can say that he has no idea of the problems that lie ahead. The NIMBYS will be out in force trying to stop him, and this time, I’m on their side.
After the 1989 earthquake, when the Embarcadero Freeway came down, the entire area was opened up and San Francisco responded big time. The Ferry Building was improved and expanded, with many shops in it. The area in front of the building was greatly improved. It’s a lovely area now, used by pedestrians, cyclist, cars. I’ve walked the area myself, both the immediate area and to AT&T Park, including from the piers 30 and 32, where media parking was for the Cal football games last fall. The views are delightful.
So now, the proposal is to block off a substantial part of that view for a basketball arena? That makes no sense at all, and you can bet the forces to stop that have already mobilized. The Giants had Willie Brown to shortcut the process for AT&T Park – which only served to revitalize that area, BTW – but the Warriors have only Ed Lee, who will do nothing beyond saying, “Go get ‘em, Joe.”
As for this notion that the Warriors are “coming home” after what will have been 48 seasons in Oakland, you might want to think twice about that.
After all, it’s a long way to Philadelphia.
GIANTS FUTURE: The right side of the infield continues to be a problem. Though it’s become obvious that Aubrey Huff is neither physically or emotionally capable of helping the team, GM Brian Sabean has said they’ve got an investment in him (meaning, another bad contract by Sabean) so they just can’t cut him loose. So, they’ll keep him to jam up the works. A better way would be to say, “We’re going to have to pay him, but we shouldn’t compound the problem by keeping him around.” They did that last year with Aaron Rowand, releasing him though he still had more than a year left on that ridiculous five-year, $60 million contract Sabean gave him. And, nobody picked him up, though a team signing him would only have had to pay the major league minimum, with the Giants paying the rest. That shows you how highly regarded he was.
Freddy Sanchez is not coming back at second. There was some thought earlier that he was deliberately staying out but what I’m hearing now is that there is a problem with his shoulder that just can’t get fixed. In all likelihood, his career is over.
It seemed that it would be a natural for Joaquin Arias to move to second when Pablo Sandoval returns, but the more Arias plays, the more he seems like a very good backup. I’ve seen many of these types over the years. They look good when they play a few games but if they’re put in a starting role, they don’t hit. Indeed, Arias’s batting average has sunk into the .230 range.
That means Ryan Theriot will probably stay at second. He’s lost a lot but he’s a battler who will dive for balls and do whatever he can.
Of course, all this supposes that Sandoval will be back soon. The Giants are not happy with his conditioning efforts since he’s been on the DL, and he’s being investigated on a sexual charge. They need Sandoval because he can hit home runs, a novel theory to the rest of the team.
As usual, the Giants pitching has sustained the team. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong have been consistently strong. Barry Zito? As one beat writer said in the press box Sunday, “This is the longest stretch he’s had as a Giant when he hasn’t been terrible.”
Zito’s fine when he throws strikes. He was doing that Sunday (I was at the game) and, except for three long drives which were caught by Giants outfielders, he was fine. But, that was the Cubs, the worst team in the National League. Chronicle beat writer Henry Schulman said to me that he thought this was the worst Cubs team he’d seen, and I couldn’t think of any worse teams. Their only hitter is Alfonso Soriano, who makes Pat Burrell look like a Gold Glover in comparison by his play in left field. Next year, when the National League has to drop its 19th century model, he can go to his natural position: designated hitter.
Zito’s next outing will be against the Texas Rangers. We’ll see if he still throws strikes against them – and whether he can keep the ball in the park.
Tim Lincecum, though, remains a problem, with his pattern of pitching well but having one disastrous inning. Monday night, it happened again against the weak-hitting Padres. He claimed to be encouraged by his outing but I doubt manager Bruce Bochy was.
I thought early that Lincecum was just having a bad stretch, similar to what he had last August, but I’m no longer that sanguine about his performance. I think the closest anybody has come to explaining his problems has been Bochy’s thought that he loses his concentration. We’ll just have to see how this plays out.
The best thing the Giants have going for them now is the fact that they’re playing in the NL West. It’s really a two-team race between the Dodgers and Giants, and the Dodgers are struggling now because of injuries to Matt Kemp, who may be the best player in the league.
JIM HARBAUGH: The 49ers coach caused a bit of a media stir when he said last week that the 49ers were only evaluating Peyton Manning when he and GM Trent Baalke flew to North Carolina to watch him work out. On ESPN, Skip Bayless said that Harbaugh believes his own lies, but you have to consider the source of those remarks. I saw enough of Bayless when he worked for The San Jose Mercury to realize what a fraud he is. Ron Bergman said he should teach a class at Cal in self promotion, his one undeniable talent.
When Tony La Russa was manager of the A’s, he complained to me that many writers wanted him to write their stories for them. They’d ask a general question and La Russa would give them a noncommittal answer, which got him the reputation of being bad with the media. But if you asked a specific question, Tony could give you a baseball lesson. I probably learned more from him than any manager I’ve known.
Harbaugh is the same type of individual, very driven, very impatient with stupid questions. But he conducts frequent media interviews at the 49ers headquarters and they contain a lot of specific information. (I’m not usually there, but the 49ers put out media e-mail transcripts.) No, he’s not giving away any secrets, but I’ve never known a really good coach who did. Mike Nolan was very cooperative with the media, but he hardly knew more than we did.
And, the most important thing to know about Harbaugh is that he knows what he’s doing. Last year, he and his staff did a remarkable job of putting the team together in a limited amount of time. This year, he’s had a full spring to work with his team and he’s doing some interesting things, including using defensive players in offensive drills; defensive tackle Will Tukuafu has been playing fullback in some practices. Fullback was once a position where players were expected to be good runners - Jim Brown, perhaps the best runner of all time, was a fullback – but in recent years, the fullback has been a blocker, a significant difference, not incidentally, between current offenses and Bill Walsh’s offense. Walsh had split backs, and either one could block, run or catch passes. But, the Raiders have used Marcel Reese as a receiver out of the backfield and, who knows, Tukuafu may occasionally carry the ball near the goal line.
Harbaugh has done his best to set up competition at every position – though the competition at quarterback is for the backup slot – because that competition will make everybody better.
TIGER WOODS got a lot of people excited with his great win last week but I remain skeptical.
There’s a reason only a handful of tournaments worldwide are called majors. There are a ton of other tournaments who are won by golfers who have the game to win them but not the mental composure to win a major.
Tiger was once the leader on the tour by a large margin, but then his world fell apart because he couldn’t resist skanky women. I don’t believe he’s got that feeling back. He certainly didn’t have it in his last major, the Masters, when he was never in contention. The Augusta course had always been a course meant for his game. The Olympic Club, where the U. S. Open will be held this month, is not.
My feeling is that Tiger will never win another major. I hope I’m wrong because I think a Tiger Woods at the top of his game is good for the sport, but my experience with athletes is that, once they lose that supreme confidence, they never get it back.
SPEAKING OF losing it, Manny Ramirez is still wandering around the baseball wilderness, a.k.a. the minor leagues, talking of God and searching for his swing.
I thought it was a worthwhile gamble for the A’s when they signed him because they badly need a power hitter, but more and more, it seems that Ramirez’s career is over. He is 40, after all.
He’leave a very mixed legacy, but my primary memory of him is as one of the great clutch hitters of all time.
WISH ME LUCK. I’m going out to Alameda today to test the Raiders new media-friendly approach. I’ll probably write on that in my Friday Examiner column.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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