Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Durant not interested in Lakers as NBA free agency begins

LOS ANGELES — As NBA free agency opens at 9 p.m. June 30, the eyes of local sports fans will turn to the Lakers front office to see what major free agent signing Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are going to pull off to get the Lakers into the playoffs next year (and save Buss’ job in the process).

In the words of old Brooklyn Dodgers fans, “wait till next year.” It’s not going to happen this year.

That became apparent last weekend when Kevin Durant, the star of this year’s free agent class, announced the teams he would meet with to discuss his free agency.

The Lakers aren’t on the list. The Clippers are, but Durant made it very clear he isn’t interested in the Lakers. He wants a team that can win a title next year and he doesn’t think the Lakers are one of those teams. And he’s correct in that assessment.

The Lakers got another building block in their efforts to rebuild their once proud franchise last week when they drafted Brandon Ingram out of Duke with the number two overall pick. A tall, slender outside shooter (like Durant), Ingram will fit in nicely with the Lakers young nucleus of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Those are five solid young players who, if they continue to develop as professional basketball players, could all be good players someday.

How long someday will take to get here is anyone’s guess right now, but it won’t be 2017.

The Lakers right now should win more than 17 games next year, no matter who fills out the rest of the roster.

A good big man like the Atlanta Hawks Al Horford, could make them a 30-game winner. A better big man — Miami’s Hassan Whiteside — might make them a 35-win team. But it takes at least 45 wins for a team in the Western Conference to make the playoffs so even if the Lakers double their win total from last season (34) or equal the combined win total of the last two seasons (38), they probably will miss the playoffs anyway.

If I were Kupchak and Buss, I would go after Horford or Whiteside as my main free agent acquisition this year, fill the remainder of the roster with solid veterans who can teach Ingram, Russell, Randle and the rest of the kids what it takes to win in the NBA and wait until the 2017 offseason when more free agent stars will be on the market and the Lakers front office will have a better idea of how the kids project over an NBA career.

This is a crucial year for the Clippers. They waited for years to be able to compete with the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder only to get passed by the Golden State Warriors. Those are three real good teams the Clippers are trying to keep up with, and the Clippers are one of the few teams that actually have salary cap issues this year.

Even though Durant has agreed to talk to the Clippers, don’t expect him to sign here. The only way I can see that happening is if he agrees to a sign-and-trade deal with Oklahoma City in which they trade him for Blake Griffin.

And if that happens, the Clippers might as well throw in Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook (a free agent next year) and see if Durant and Westbrook can win a key playoff series together in Los Angeles or if Paul and Griffin would have better luck in Oklahoma City. I don’t really think that will happen, either, but it might make for a couple of more column topics while I’m waiting to see what the Dodgers are going to become this year.

After losing his second game of the season June 26 against Pittsburgh, Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw was sent home two days early from the Dodgers road trip to see back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins, The Dodgers can’t afford to lose their ace. (Courtesy photo)
After losing his second game of the season June 26 against Pittsburgh, Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw was sent home two days early from the Dodgers road trip to see back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins, The Dodgers can’t afford to lose their ace. (Courtesy photo)

AN ACHING BACK: Speaking of the Dodgers, the entire organization and fan base as well are holding their breaths waiting to see how Clayton Kershaw’s visit to the back doctor June 29 went.

After carrying the Dodgers for the first three months of the season — a heavy load — Kershaw’s back has started bothering him and the team sent him home from the current road trip a couple of days early to see back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins.

Kershaw is the only starting pitcher that manager Dave Roberts can count on going more than six innings a start. Losing him for any length of time will put more strain on the bullpen, which for the most part has been carrying the Dodgers pitching staff.

The offense continues to be up one week and down the next. When Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig start hitting, Adrian Gonzalez and Trayce Thompson stop.

Andrew Friedman and the rest of the Dodgers front office can’t decide who they should chase at the trade deadline until they know what they need the most. I expect them to trade for both a starting pitcher and a big bat by this time next month.

Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks had her best game of the season June 28. While thinking of her college coach, former University of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt who died earlier in the day, Parker scored 31 points, added 13 rebounds and seven assists in the Sparks come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Wings. (Courtesy photo)
Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks had her best game of the season June 28. While thinking of her college coach, former University of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt who died earlier in the day, Parker scored 31 points, added 13 rebounds and seven assists in the Sparks come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Wings. (Courtesy photo)
Tom Kelly
Tom Kelly

A SPARKS COMEBACK: Candace Parker played with a heavy heart June 28. Earlier in the day, her college coach, the legendary Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee, died of Alzheimer’s disease.

In tribute to her college coach, Parker wore orange shoes (Tennessee’s colors) and wrote the word rebound on each shoe.

She then went out and played one of her best games of the year, scoring 31 points pulling down 13 rebounds and handing off seven assists as the Sparks improved their record to 14-1 with a come-from-behind 89-84 win over the Dallas Wings at Staples Center.

Parker said it was difficult playing with a heavy heart but “I got a lot of strength from [Summitt].”

That may have led to those 13 rebounds, which were a season high for Parker.

“I could see coach’s glare and hear her voice screaming at me to rebound,” she said after the game.

The Sparks trailed 54-33 at halftime before roaring back in the second half.

Their 14-1 record is the best start to a season any team has had in the WNBA’s 20 years.

R.I.P. TOM KELLY: Closer to home, the USC family lost its longtime voice June 27 when Tom Kelly died at the age of 88.

Kelly was the voice of USC football on radio from 1961 through 1965 and then again from 1973 to 1988 and on television from 1989 to 2003. He saw five national championship teams, five Heisman Trophy winners and 92 first-team All Americans as a broadcaster.

He also did games for the Lakers, the Clippers, the San Diego Chargers.

He was admitted to the USC Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2005.

USC Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone praised Kelly as “one of Southern California’s most versatile and accomplished announcers. He did play-by-play for just about every sport imaginable — from football, basketball, baseball, track and boxing to billiards, swimming and golf.”

Current USC football play-by-play man Pete Arbogast told KNX Newsradio that Kelly was “an idol of mine, no question.”

“He, to me, has always been the voice of the Trojans,” Arbogast said. “It’s a terrible loss to the Trojans and to broadcasters in Southern California.”

Kelly “seemed to be everywhere,” Arbogast said of the late sportscaster’s prolific body of work. “He had that voice that you could hear from six blocks away.”

Kelly, 88, died after a long bout with cancer.