As the Dodgers season is winding down and the Clippers season is close to starting, a seemingly ridiculous question entered my mind. Do the Clippers, yes, the team with 2 winning seasons under their belt, have a better future than the Dodgers, who have heavily disappointed this season? Of course, one bad season alone would not warrant this question, but there are many factors to be explored here.
In April of 2010, the Dodgers started their season with much promise on the field but a harsh reality off the field, while the Clippers ended their season sourly on the court but encouraging in the offices. The impending divorce of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt hung a dark cloud over the best outfield in the majors when healthy, while the celebrated departure of Mike Dunleavy overshadowed a disappointing year from Eric Gordon and the injury of Blake Griffin. Center-fielder Matt Kemp, who was supposed to be embarking on a superstar season, was indeed spectacular until General Manager Ned Colletti singled him out on the radio for his poor defense. A Clippers GM has never singled out a player like this in recent memory, unless you count Dunleavy ripping on Elton Brand after he spurned Baron Davis and the Clippers during the 2008 free agency period. While Dunleavy revealed himself to be a competent GM, his controlling coaching style frustrated players and fans. Colletti has frustrated fans with the trading of star prospect Carlos Santana, the signing of Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre, and his inability to trade for an ace - Dodger fans have watched on the sidelines as the Phillies have traded for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt.
A big similarity between the two teams is the nucleus of young talent. While the Dodgers boast Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney, the Clippers flaunt Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. All have their weaknesses, including Kemp’s defensive struggles and low batting average this year, Ethier inability to hit left handers, Loney’s lack of power needed at first base, Griffin’s injury, and Gordon’s lack of playmaking and rebounding ability. The Dodgers are hoping that newly signed prospect Zach Lee will lead stars Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands out of the minor league system, while the Clippers hope young draft picks Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe, Willie Warren, and Marqus Blakely will start a Oklahoma City Thunder-like youth movement.
Today, when we look at these teams, we can’t help but look at the ownership situations. When the McCourt’s divorce was revealed during the 2009 NLCS against the Phillies, Dodgers fans became scared. The biggest issue is always money. Was this the reason we traded Carlos Santana for Casey Blake? Is this why we didn’t trade for Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee? Meanwhile, Donald Sterling seemed to turn a corner by eventually firing Dunleavy, but then reassured all of us by suing him for a fraudulent contract. One glaring difference is the fact that the Dodgers are more than $430 million in debt, while the Clippers continue to make money despite their continuous losing seasons.
In sports, every team needs a plan to succeed. For the past couple years, the Clippers have been planning for the future, while the Dodgers have been planning for the present. GM Dunleavy succeeded in trading the mammoth contract of Zach Randolph, loyal and fan favorite Marcus Camby, and one-dimensional Al Thornton for spare parts and cap-space, all for the summer of Lebron James, (perhaps now the summer of Carmelo Anthony) and for the looming CBA lockout. The Dodgers have ignored the future and looked only at the present. Indeed, the trade for Manny Ramirez was brilliant, but one overlooked factor was the deferred money he was promised in his contract. Deferred money has been a strange trend for the Blue Crew. Hilariously, the Dodgers will now be paying the current Chicago White Sox outfield (Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Manny) for years to come. They are still paying for former Dodgers Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf, and Orlando Hudson. Besides deferring all this money to veterans, the Dodgers have disappointed at the trade deadline since signing Manny. They have seen aces get traded to an NL rival, while they have traded their young talent, including James McDonald and Blake DeWitt for a combination of Scott Podsednik (Juan Pierre-beta), Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, and Octavio Dotel. I admit the Ronny Belliard trade was a success, but the benching of Orlando Hudson in his favor during the playoffs leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
There are many similarities between past and present Clippers and Dodgers players. Zach Randolph and Andruw Jones were both brought in to help the offense. While Randolph contributed his expected 20 points and 10 rebounds, he couldn’t shed any pounds and his defense showed. Andruw Jones showed up to spring training camp overweight and batted .158 with 3 home runs during the season. In their next seasons, both with different teams, Randolph would be named to his first all-star team while Jones would bat .212, but with a much improved 17 home runs. Another similarity is what Sam Cassell and Manny Ramirez brought to their teams. Both brought a different type of leadership - Cassell a voice on the court and a jumper in crunch time type of leadership, and Manny a slugging doubles and home runs type of leadership. Each led their teams to the playoffs, winning in the first round but unable to get their teammates help to win a second series. Unfortunately, both would leave in similar fashion - toward the end of the season once their team had fallen out of contention to be penciled into the lineup of a contender.
Every summer, a Clippers fan expects big things the coming season, with new players and an optimistic formula. Most often than not we are disappointed because of a set of injuries and organizational disfunction. For a Dodgers fan, the playoffs are looming, and we hope we have enough firepower to make it to the World Series. There are certainly questions for the next Clippers season, such as worries about Blake Griffin’s health, Eric Gordon’s improvement, and whether or not Chris Kaman is really a 19 and 10 guy. However, there are much more uncertainties for the Dodgers. What is the ownership situation going to be like? Will Matt Kemp bounce back? Is Clayton Kershaw our ace? Who is our leader?
This summer has brought much hope to Clippers fans, as Eric Gordon has been the second leading scorer for Team USA in the World Basketball Championships, and Blake Griffin has been working out at 100%. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have traded away their young talent for a shot at the far distant playoffs and the McCourt divorce trials have begun. A lot hinges on the future. Will Joe Torre stay or leave? Will Vinny Del Negro silence his critics? There is a lot to think about, but I’ve been thinking a lot more positively about the Clippers these days.