Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: James becomes top athlete in Los Angeles, too

By Don Wanlass

Staff Writer

With LeBron James joining the Lakers, is it safe to say that he is now the No. 1 athlete in town?

He’s already the best basketball player on the planet and one of the most highly recognized athletes in the world.

And in this city of stars, his light might shine the brightest. Who else has as high a profile as James? No one.

The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, arguably the greatest pitcher on the planet. Down the freeway, there’s Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who is one of the best position players in baseball. Neither one has the superstar status James has.

The Rams have some solid, young, talented players that could become superstars in quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley, but neither are at that level, yet.

The Chargers have aging veteran Phillip Rivers at quarterback and some talent around him, but no superstars.

With the dismantling of Lob City, the Clippers have reverted to the days when they had no superstars.

The Kings have two superstars, defenseman Drew Doughty and forward Anze Kopitar, but the Kings don’t make a big enough splash in Los Angeles to compete with James.

Neither do the Galaxy, who have Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic; or the Sparks, who have Candace Parker, the current WNBA Player of the Week and one of two captains for the WNBA All Star Game, which will be played July 28.

So LeBron can definitely be King James in the city. All he has to do is lead the Lakers to the playoffs, which will be a difficult — but not impossible — task next season.

Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado takes a picture of him and Matt Kemp during the All Star Game July 17. The two players figure to be teammates when play resumes July 20. (Courtesy photo)

THE NEXT MANNY: Speaking of star power, back in 2008 the Dodgers made a July trade for some guy named Manny Ramirez, who ignited the masses at Dodgers Stadium as few ever have. Ramirez led the Dodgers into the playoffs, where they ran into the Philadelphia Phillies, who were on their way to a world championship.

Ramirez was gone in less than two years, but he made a mark here.

The Dodgers have a chance to grab another superstar named Manny this year, who hopefully will help them retain their lead in the National League West. Manny Machado is only 26, can play shortstop or third base at a Gold Glove level and can hit with the best players in the Major Leagues.

As of July 18, Machado is rumored to be heading this way from Baltimore. The Dodgers are supposedly sending several prospects to Baltimore, including Yusniel Diaz, a power-hitting outfielder currently at Double A Tulsa. Diaz hit two home runs July 15 in the Futures Game, a minor league all star game featuring the best prospects in the game.

Diaz is expendable because the Dodgers are loaded with outfielders from the major leagues to their top two minor league affiliates. Who else will be going to Baltimore is unknown as this is being written, but acquiring Machado will provide the Dodgers a deeper lineup. Their current lineup is deep enough to survive the National League, but might not be enough for w World Series matchup against the Boston red Sox, New York Yankees or Houston Astros.

Machado should move right in at shortstop, allowing Chris Taylor to move to second base, filling the Dodgers biggest lineup vacancy.

Manager Dave Roberts will still have to figure out how to get enough at bats for first-half break-out star Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Kike Hernandez and Andrew Toles, but that is a good problem to have.

The Dodgers still need to strengthen their bullpen for the stretch run. Unlike the last two seasons, Roberts hasn’t been able to find the relief pitcher who can get the ball consistently to Kenley jansen in the ninth inning.

The Dodgers currently have five relief pitchers on the disabled list but Pedro Baez and Yumi Garcia are the same pitchers they were three years ago, Josh Fields is still Josh Fields and no one knows who Tom Koehler is or why he was signed in the off-season since he hasn’t been seen in action all season.

The Dodgers might be better off making Walker Buehler a relief pitcher for the rest of the season, since they have six starters with him right now and Hyun-Jin Ryu expected off the disabled list next month.

The Dodgers have enough organizational depth to acquire Machado and a relief pitcher or two before the July 31 trade deadline. You can expect Andrew Friedman and his front office to pull off a couple of deals at least.

Josh Hart, a second year player out of Villanova, was selected most valuable player of the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Hart figures to play a larger role for the Lakers this season.
(Courtesy photo)

SUMMER STARS: The NBA Summer League used to be a place for teams to get a look at marginal players who might fill out the roster for training camp and to see how draft picks adjust to the faster pace of the NBA game.

Last year, the Lakers won the Las Vegas Summer League title, with Lonzo Ball being selected the league’s most valuable player.

This year, the Lakers lost in the title game to Portland, but Josh Hart was selected the MVP of the league after averaging 24 points, fvie rebounds and two assists per game.

Hart was a pleasant surprise for the Lakers last season and figures to be a role player off the bench this year.

He only averaged 7.9 points a game last season but the more he played, the more he produced. In the last four games of the season, averaging 37 minutes a game, he scored more than 24 points a game, ending the season with a 30-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist performance against the Clippers in a 115-100 win.

Hart was drafted out of Villanova by the Utah Jazz in the 2017 draft, the last player chosen in the first round.

The Lakers traded the 28th pick, Tony Bradley out of North Carolina for the rights to Hart and Thomas Bryant, the 42nd pick in the draft.

Hart helped lead Villanova to the 2015-16 NCAA Championship, averaging 15.5 points a game as a junior. He returned for his senior year at Villanova and is one of those college players who blossomed after four years of college experience.

He can play shooting guard or point guard and can cover both guard positions and most small forwards. He figures to be a mainstay in the Lakers rotation this year as the team looks for shooters who can help LeBron be LeBron.