Each season started off with such optimism. Matt Barkley is returning to USC for his Senior Season, U.S.C. Football Pre-Season Number 1!!! Magic's group buys the Dodgers and they are spending like drunken sailors!!! The Lakers acquire Steve Nash and Dwight Howard!!!. How is all of this working out for L.A. sports fans now?
The year has been filled with big announcements, high expectations and so far tremendous let downs. Before I move on, I have to congratulate the Kings on their first Stanley Cup and the L.A. Galaxy on winning the championship again. You two were the only reason L.A. had anything to cheer about this year. But because the year has been filled with tremendous failures, let's take a closer look at some of the culprits.
6. Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels: Remember all the hope and expectations that began for Angels fans when they signed newly minted World Series Champion and two time MVP Albert Pujols to a 10 year contract? When Angels fans unwrapped their shiny new $254 million dollar slugger he rewarded them with a 5 for 50 slump, batted .194 at one point and got benched. He had a career low batting average on the year and hit a career low 30 homeruns as the Angels faded late and failed to make the Playoffs. But don't worry Angels fans remember you have this 32 year old slugger for ten years! If he batted .194 for a stretch at age 32 imagine how productive he will be at 42 when the Angels contract expires.
5. Matt Barkley, QB USC: Could things have looked more promising for Barkley and USC last winter? Coming out of a bowl ban they had just beaten Notre Dame, UCLA (50-0) and Oregon at Oregon. Then Barkley gave every SC fan what they had been dreaming about. He decided to return to USC for his final season to win the Heisman and compete for a National Title. To top it off he had the best two wide outs in the country set to return in Robert Woods and the freakishly talented Marquis Lee. What could go wrong? Barkley threw untimely interceptions, displayed a lack of leadership and lost to every U.S.C. rival including Notre Dame; a game in which he could have redeemed the whole season by knocking off the undefeated hated rival but failed to play. With Matt Leinart and Sanchez famously busting in the NFL, will pro-teams find it in their heart to spend an early draft pick and major dollars on another U.S.C. quarterback that finished shakier than John David Booty? Well, the word is that his draft position is falling fast.
4. Don Mattingly, Manager Dodgers: Coming in to the season, the Dodgers had re-signed MVP candidate Matt Kemp, Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and the super clutch hitting Andre Eithier. Then Magic Johnson's group bought the team and the sky was the limit. They acquired Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Crawford, and All Star Adrian Gonzales. Granted Crawford is still out and Beckett is not yet what he used to be, but with three All-Star hitters and a Cy Young one would think that the average manger could coach this group up to one of the numerous playoff berths available this year thanks to Major League Baseball's expanded playoffs. Maybe, just maybe, with all the Dodger talent and the extra $270 million dollars spent the Dodgers could compete for one of the last Wild Card spots given that they have a huge payroll and several current and former All-Stars. Not with Don Mattingly at the helm. The Dodgers used to make the most with the least by keeping a strong farm team, developing players and getting the most out of them. Mattingly's motto appears to be get the least by spending the most as the Dodgers talented and expensive roster watched the playoffs from home while the hated arch rival San Francisco Giants won another World Series Title. Most people are giving Mattingly a pass because all the new players. Look for Mattingly's seat to heat up around the All-Star break if the Dodgers are still struggling.
3. Pau Gasol, PF Lakers: Once thought of as one of the best big men in the world Pau turned in one of his worst seasons to date in 2011-2012. Word is that he was pouting after the failed Chris Paul trade when the Lakers tried to ship him to Houston. Then the Lakers made it clear they were keeping him and his almost $20 million per year salary and then he played even worse this season. When the Lakers first traded for him, giving up the rights to Marc Gasol to the Memphis Grizzlies his all-star brother, many commentators thought the Lakers got away with highway robbery. But now Marc Gasol has rounded into an All-Star anchoring the best front court in the west as Memphis battles for the best record while the Lakers sit at .500 and Pau performs like a shell of his old self. Who got robbed?
2. Lane Kiffin, Head Coach USC Football Team: Pre-season ranked Number 1! Matt Barkley coming back! Best wide receiver tandem in the country by far. For good measure Kiffin went out and plucked the best remaining piece from the carcass that is the Penn State football program in convincing star running back Silas Redd to transfer to U.S.C. It is clear that Kiffin can recruit talent. But staying out of controversy, Xs and Os and leadership are a different story. Did U.S.C. get caught illegally deflating footballs for the Oregon game? Sure they did. Did Kiffin orchestrate players changing the numbers on their jerseys at halftime to confuse opponents breaking rules and college football etiquette? Sure he did. It is safe to say that the four biggest games on the schedule this year were Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA, and Stanford. USC lost all of them. A first since at least 1988. And I would argue that never has that happened with a team this loaded. They also lost to a much less talented Arizona team on an afternoon where they led by three touchdowns and Marquis Lee broke a couple Pac 12 records. Go figure. The team while having its moments looked unmotivated, leaderless and listless when it counted most. Look for Kiffin's seat to heat up if there is another UCLA loss. Trojan Alumni hate that.
1. Mike Brown, Former Lakers Head Coach: Lakers acquire Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to team up with Kobe and Gasol. Who in the world can stop them? Mike Brown and the Princeton Offense, that's who. After Brown lead an uninspiring, and disappointing 2010-2011 campaign, the team shook up the roster and picked up Nash and Howard. While lacking in defensive skill, Nash is a savvy veteran that has always excelled at orchestrating successful offenses that appear to flow. Kobe is a prolific scorer who knows how to win championships. Howard and Gasol are All-Star big men. Mike Brown is a coach not known for offense so he decides to install a college offensive system, the Princeton Offense, that might win you the Ivy League title if you're lucky. The Result? Players who have looked fluid their whole careers now stand around and seem hesitant and confused. Gasol is taking three pointers, Nash is getting the ball stolen and Kobe is just flat out angry and the Lakers go 0-8 in pre-season and 1-4 during the regular season. Thanks Princeton Offense.
- UCLA Basketball: When are we going to start talking about wins instead of scandals. In a weak Pac-12 they should be dominating. They are far from that.
- Adrian Gonzalez: The Dodgers have wanted him ever since he was with the Padres. They took on a lot of salary to get him. Although he was not with them the full season his impact was minimal. We will need to step it up in 2013.
[David McGruder is a native of Southern California living in New York City.]