Why money can’t buy happiness in Los Angeles
This was supposed to be the year Los Angeles dominated the sports world.
The Dodgers, who were bought out by a team of investors (including NBA legend Magic Johnson) for an insane $2.15 billion back in March, had all the money they needed to purchase top-ranked prospects and sign (and resign) star players. Many thought the team was a shoo-in for the playoffs, especially when they acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford near the end of the season. Instead, their Northern California rivals, the San Francisco Giants, took the division, and the St. Louis Cardinals jumped ahead and knocked them out of wild card contention.
The Angels found themselves faced with similar circumstances. They currently have the fourth-largest payroll in the MLB and field one of the best hitting lineups in baseball, one that features veteran All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter, rookie phenom Mike Trout and future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols. And yet the Baltimore Orioles, with about half the payroll (a $73 million difference), ended up denying the Angels an American League wild card spot.
Of course, baseball isn’t the only sport Los Angeles throws money at. The Lakers, a team whose capacity to contend year after year is revered by many and feared by the rest of the NBA, used its deep pockets to recruit point guard Steve Nash (two-time MVP) from the Phoenix Suns and center Dwight Howard (perennial favorite for the Defensive Player of the Year award) from the Orlando Magic.
The basketball community was stunned, if not surprised, by the news that the two superstars would be joining a team that already had plenty; along with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, Nash and Howard were predicted to set about tyrannizing the league on talent alone for years to come. As it stands today, Nash is out with a small fracture in his left leg and the Lakers are struggling to find a way for their stars to coexist on a nightly basis. They’ve won only one game so far this year after losing all eight games in the preseason.
Is it simply bad luck? Not entirely—each of these franchises has the pieces they need to wreak havoc, but it doesn’t seem as though their respective front offices have any idea how to fit them together to form a consistently effective roster. The Giants have a decent-sized payroll, but they also managed to play as though their actions were a unified effort, and they have their second World Series championship in three years to show for it.
Similarly, the Lakers’ losing streak isn’t the product of player regression or lack of skill, but rather the inability to play as a team. One of the biggest criticisms against the Lakers this year has been Mike Brown’s decision to inhibit Nash’s capacity to run the offense, which defeats the whole purpose of signing him in the first place. Instead, they are relying on the same unimaginative Kobe-centric strategy that they have employed for years, one that is capable of leading the team to a 30-point blowout or derailing them down the stretch against some of the league’s worst lineups. Nash, one of the best playmakers in the history of the NBA, is still getting used to his drastically reduced role and looks genuinely lost on court.
Now that Nash is out with an injury, replacement point guard Steve Blake has been picking up the slack, and the team recently crushed the Detroit Pistons for their first win of the year, controlling the game from the outset and never letting up. But these are short-term fixes for a long-term problem, and talent is only as good as the foundation supporting it. It remains to be seen just how long it will take Los Angeles to figure that out.