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SPORTS DIGEST: Lakers turn to Luke Walton to revive franchise

The Lakers are serious about turning the franchise around and getting back to being a team that contends for the playoffs and the occasional NBA title.

That’s the message Lakers management sent April 29 when announcing the hiring of Luke Walton as the new head coach.

I didn’t agree with the firing of Byron Scott because there wasn’t much he could have done with the Lakers the last two years. But hiring Walton will be the first step in getting the franchise moving in the right direction.

First, Walton has a championship pedigree. He is the son of basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton, the former UCLA great whose NBA career was hampered by injuries. Luke played on the last two Lakers championship teams, not as a starter but a role player off the bench who did the little things well.

Walton first impressed me when he was playing at the University of Arizona. Not an overly gifted athlete, he was a two-time all Pac 10 first team selection because he was intelligent, knew how and when to pass the ball and seemed to understand the nuances of the game better than most college players.

At 36, Walton is young enough to still relate to NBA players. As an assistant coach on the Golden State Warriors, he has learned what it is like to coach in the NBA and his experience as the substitute head coach for the Warriors this season when Steve Kerr was sidelined by back surgery made him someone every team with a coaching vacancy wanted to interview

The Lakers were smart in moving in first with the best offer, although Walton said the Lakers was the only head coaching job he was interested in.

Walton still has work to do with the Warriors before taking over with the Lakers. That’s fine.

The Lakers are waiting to see how the NBA’s draft lottery works out before making plans for next season. If the Lakers manage to hold on to their top pick, they are assured of having another top college player on the roster next year to blend it with the nucleus of DeAndre Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., their four picks from the last two drafts.

Walton hopefully will be better at recruiting free agents to come play for the Lakers than any of the recent Lakers head coaches because the roster needs veterans who can mentor the young players and show them how it’s supposed to be done in the NBA.

The Lakers may not make the playoffs next year. But with Walton calling the shots from the bench, they will have a chance to be competitive, which they haven’t been the last two seasons.

Jared Goff, shown here during his days at Cal, was the Rams number one pick in the NFL Draft April 28. He is expected to contend for the starting quarterback job as a rookie. (Photo courtesy of Marin Media)
Jared Goff, shown here during his days at Cal, was the Rams number one pick in the NFL Draft April 28. He is expected to contend for the starting quarterback job as a rookie. (Photo courtesy of Marin Media)

THE RAMS ARE BACK: That was quite a party the Los Angeles Rams staged at L.A. Live April 28. Rams fans packed the plaza to watch the NFL Draft, which saw the Rams take Cal quarterback Jared Goff with the overall number one pick.

The Rams felt they needed an upgrade at quarterback and thought Goff was the best one on the draft board, which made it a pretty simple decision. Except those decisions are never simple.

No one will know how good a quarterback Goff will be in the NFL until he gets out on the field and proves it. Even a solid rookie year won’t necessarily mean Goff is going to be a star.

Just go back to the Rams top pick in 2010.

Sam Bradford was the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner and the first overall choice fir the Rams in the 2010 draft. In his first year, he set the NFL record for most pass completions by a rookie and was chosen the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Six years later and Bradford isn’t even sure he has a starting job in the league with the Philadelphia Eagles, who traded up to draft quarterback Carson Wentz of North Dakota State right behind Goff last week.

Bradford immediately asked to be traded.

Bradford’s progress has been stymied by injuries, much like Robert Griffin III, who is trying to restart his career with the Cleveland Browns.

First-year success doesn’t always indicate stardom, so I’m not jumping on the Goff bandwagon yet. Besides, I’ve followed the Rams for a long time. In the old days, the most popular person with the fans on the team used to be the backup quarterback.

We will see if new Rams fans are as fickle as the old ones were.

The Rams only had five other picks in the draft after Goff, trading most of their other picks to move up to get Goff.

In the fourth round, they drafted Western Kentucky tight end Tyler Higbee and South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper. In the sixth round, they added Kentucky linebacker Josh Forrest, South Carolina State tight end Tamarrick Hemingway and Southern Mississippi wide receiver Mike Thomas.

The Rams need more receivers for Goff to get the ball to so the four offensive rookies have good chances of making the opening day roster.

Kenta Maeda has been a pleasant surprise in his first month as a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Signed as a free agent from Japan in the offseason, Maeda has a 3-1 record after five starts with a 1.41 earned run average. (Courtesy photo)
Kenta Maeda has been a pleasant surprise in his first month as a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Signed as a free agent from Japan in the offseason, Maeda has a 3-1 record after five starts with a 1.41 earned run average.
(Courtesy photo)

A LONG SEASON: It’s only the first week of May and already you have to remind Dodgers fans that baseball teams play a 162-game schedule over six months and there are bound to be ups and downs.

After being down on the bullpen for most of the first month of the season, pessimistic Dodgers fans turned their venom on the offense last week after the Dodgers dropped six games on a seven-game homestand, scoring only 10 runs in the last six games.

The offense was no better in the one game the Dodgers managed to win: a 1-0 victory over the San Diego Padres May 1 in which Clayton Kershaw pitched a three-hit shutout and drove in the only run of the game with a third-inning single.

The Dodgers are currently only a half-game behind the Giants with 21 more weeks to play. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

There have been some good signs, led by the success of Japanese starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, who could replace Zack Greinke in the hearts of fans. Joe Blanton has been a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen and Trayce Thompson has provided some offensive pop off the bench as a reserve outfielder.

Thompson is battling his big brother Klay, the starting shooting guard for the Golden State Warriors, for publicity.

Their dad, former Lakers center Mychal Thompson, should be a very proud father.

Former St. John Bosco wide receiver Bryce Treggs, who played collegiately at Cal, has signed a free agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo by Jose/Marin Media)
Former St. John Bosco wide receiver Bryce Treggs, who played collegiately at Cal, has signed a free agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo by Jose/Marin Media)

SHORT NOTES: McKenna Stevens, a junior on Culver City High School’s girls’ volleyball team, recently won a trip to the Olympic Games in Brazil later this summer. Dick’s Sporting Goods in El Segundo received 5,000 nominations to participate in this program, and McKenna was nominated by her club coach and selected for this opportunity.

She and her mother will fly to Rio this summer on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Olympics and will get to see many of the Olympic events.

On May 3, Fremont High School in South Los Angeles renamed its baseball field in honor of Clarence Johnson for his 50 years of dedicated service to the school and its baseball team.  For the last 50 years, Johnson has served as the groundskeeper for the baseball diamond at Fremont, getting the field into shape for practices and games.

Every year when the NFL Draft is over, teams in the league quickly hurry to sign players who weren’t drafted to free agent contracts to fill out preseason rosters. These players start out as longshots, but every year there are players who survive the exhibition season and stick with the teams they signed with.

Two former wide receivers from Dorsey High School will continue as teammates at least for the summer. Jaydon Mickens and Marvin Hall, who played their college ball at the University of Washington, both signed free agent deals with the Oakland Raiders.

A third area player, former St, John Bosco standout Bryce Treggs, who caught passes from Jared Goff at Cal the last three seasons, signed with the San Francisco 49ers.