How the Sparks looked, whom will the Lakers hire, and what’s up with Chris Taylor? – Orange County Register

Jim Alexander: The good part is that the Sparks – a team that coach Curt Miller candidly acknowledges is in a rebuild – looked pretty good for most of its opening night Wednesday, and basically lost because of an 11-0 surge by Atlanta at the start of the fourth quarter. Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson had their rookie moments, as expected, and Brink was limited by early foul trouble … but oh, my gosh, her fourth-quarter block on Cheyenne Parker-Tyrus was one for the highlight reel.

The other good part, as I wrote for the Friday paper: The place was rocking. The bad part: This should have been on a larger stage. The paid attendance was 3,847 in the 4,000-or-so capacity Pyramid. This is the WNBA’s moment, and the league’s individual teams have to figure out a way to take advantage of it.

Also a tease for the column: Layshia Clarendon, pride of San Bernardino’s Cajon High and one who absolutely gets it, had some pretty pertinent things to say about where the league is now and, in response to my question, where it will be in another 27 years or so.

There’s some veteran leadership on the roster, with Clarendon, Dearica Hamby and Kia Nurse, who had a triple double (11 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists for Clarendon), a double-double (20 points, 14 rebounds for Hamby) and an 8-for-16 shooting night with 5-for 11 from beyond the arc (Nurse, with a team-high 23 points). That leadership will pay dividends as the season continues. Whether it will bring a playoff spot with it remains to be seen, but I think this team is in good hands beyond this year.

Mirjam Swanson: Dearica told me the other day that the Sparks won’t be a lottery team this year – and I’d love to believe her, because I like when L.A. gets fired up about women’s hoops, like folks did this past college basketball season.

But I don’t know.

Curt Miller, however, is someone who certainly does know what he’s talking about, and he’s right: The priority this season should absolutely be developing Brink (who had several highlights to write home about!) and Jackson, and second- and third-year talents like Zia Cooke and Rae Burrell. And, sure, part of that development is learning how to win in the WNBA – which isn’t easy.

I’m glad the Sparks put on a good show in their opener against Atlanta, but – like the Sparks – not a ton is expected this season from the Dream.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the Sparks fare against the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces on Saturday. If they can make that a competitive ballgame, well! Then the Sparks might really be up to something. And Dearica can be like: Told ya.

We’ll see!

Jim: Meanwhile, the Great Lakers Coach Search continues (and yes, that title is an homage to the late Herald-Examiner sports editor and columnist, Bud Furillo). And sure enough, JJ Redick seems to be the favorite to get the job. This baffles me. You just fired a guy, Darvin Ham, in part because he wasn’t the finished product in terms of strategy and managing a game. (Those were the public reasons, anyway.) And now you’re going to hire a guy with no – none, zip, zero, nada – coaching experience to lead a franchise with enormous pressure and enormous expectations.

Sorry, but this makes no sense.

And as I suggested last week when I wrote a column about the (misguided) notion that LeBron James could be a player-coach (he can’t, according to the collective bargaining agreement), bringing in Redick would be about the same thing as giving the reins to LeBron. As Marc Stein discussed on his NBA Substack – which I recommend subscribing to, if you haven’t already – this could divide the locker room. Stein quoted Udonis Haslem on ESPN’s NBA Today thusly:

“If it’s JJ [Redick], it’s going to be a cynical locker room. You’re gonna see guys that are gonna say, ‘Is Coach gonna do a podcast after the game with LeBron?’ You gonna have a cynical locker room of guys that are gonna side-eye everything JJ says, cause they’re gonna wonder, ‘Is it JJ’s message or LeBron’s message?’”

And there’s this from Tim Hardaway Sr. — you know, the Run TMC Warriors’ Tim Hardaway — who was one of those who originally floated a player-coach role for LeBron:

“”If you’re just going to hire JJ Redick … LeBron is going to run everything, going to run practice, going to run games; he’s just going to run everything.”

I’d like to believe that Rob Pelinka – after, of course, consulting with Jeanie Buss and her kitchen cabinet – decides that someone with more experience should be in charge. And in fact the Lakers do seem to be doing their due diligence, although it’s also been suggested that they’re stalling for time until after the Finals and after Redick’s broadcast commitment to ESPN runs out.

What do you think, Mirjam? Will the folks in the Laker building come to their senses on this one?

Mirjam: I saw that segment with Haslem live. Austin Rivers was on that episode too, echoing similar thoughts. Of course, not to be cynical, but I had to wonder what their motivations were.

Because Haslem advocated for the hiring of Chris Quinn, the longest-tenured assistant coach on the Miami Heat’s coaching staff. Though Haslem made sure to point out: “I’m not just saying this ’cause Chris Quinn is my guy…”

And Rivers voiced his support for Sam Cassell, a longtime assistant of Doc Rivers (Austin’s dad) at different stops, including with the Clippers.

That said, the next Lakers coach will have to check a ton of boxes, foremost among them: Does LeBron respect you?

Think back to 2016, when the Cleveland Cavaliers excused David Blatt and hired Tyronn Lue (even though they had the Eastern Conference’s best record – 30-11 – at the time).

There were all these stories back then about how Blatt hadn’t been able to control the huddle or keep LeBron’s attention in those moments. (Sound familiar, Lakers fans?) But remember what happened when Ty took over? What he reportedly, famously told LeBron when LeBron tried to override him, and how that helped establish his gravitas in that setting? “Shut the [expletive] up. I got this.”

Is JJ a guy to do that (probably) and get away with it/make it work (maybe)?

I don’t actually think hiring a coach with none, zip, zero, nada coaching experience for THIS job is the right call. But it’s hard to predict which basketball mind will meld successfully with LeBron’s.

Jim: Two more NBA thoughts: You think Austin might have been influenced by the idea that his dad and JJ have had a running beef for a while?

And here’s one more LeBron-related item. Now he’s backing away from the idea that he’d want to play for the same NBA team that his son Bronny would go to. (I can’t possibly imagine Bronny is ready yet, but that’s beside the point). But could you imagine them playing against each other in the NBA? What happens the first time Bronny steals the ball from his old man and goes to the other end for a layup? Would that be the chasedown block to end all chasedown blocks?

(Kids these days!)

OK, last subject of the day: Chris Taylor. He has been the worst hitter in the big leagues this spring (4 for 56, .071, minus 0.7 WAR), and after Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had proclaimed that he wanted to give Taylor some “runway” to get right, Taylor hasn’t played since May 7.

And now Jason Heyward is getting ready to come off the injured list, and someone needs to make room. You’ve got James Outman, who isn’t hitting much better (.151, minus-0.5 WAR) but has minor-league options left. Is it that tough a choice? Outman can get himself straightened out by going to the minor leagues, but if he stays he can still provide outfield defense. Taylor still has two years and $30 million left (minus what he’s already been paid this year) on his contract, two years at $13 million and a $4 million buyout if his option isn’t picked up for 2026. (Outman is signed for this year at $770,000.)

Or, to put it another way, which one do you assign a phantom injury to in order to activate Heyward? (Not that that’s ever done in the big leagues, of course.)

Mirjam: Oh, man. Taylor is having such a rough go of it. He has to be the odd man out, if you’re going the phantom injury route. But overall, long term, what to do with him if he can’t get it going? And how can he get it going if he’s not playing? And how can you play him when he’s not hitting, like, at all?

Taylor has been a Dodger for almost a decade, come through in the clutch in the postseason, and was rewarded with a four-year, $60 million deal after the 2021 season – which limits what the Dodgers will want to do with him, right?

But he’s become less versatile (just two innings at second base, otherwise, he’s played exclusively in left field) and obviously, .071 is .071. Yeesh.

But I just read a suggestion from the folks at the Dodger blog True Blue L.A. that might help, if Dodger fans are so obliged: Clap for CT3.

No, really. Think about the Philadelphia Phillies’ fans treatment of Trea Turner last season.

How they’d booed him (naturally, it’s Philly) after he got off to a poor start before a local radio producer had an idea before Turner’s first at-bat during an August a homestand, suggesting, as Michael Elizondo recounted: “That the fans of Citizens Bank Park should try to bolster Turner’s feelings by giving him a standing ovation.”

Seem hokey?

“Maybe a little,” Elizondo wrote, “but here’s the strange thing: it helped … correlation is not causation but Turner was a far different and better player after the standing ovation for the rest of the season than before it, hitting .337/.389/.668 in his final 48 games.”

And by Turner’s own admission: “I owe you guys a thank you. I’ve heard that you guys were responsible, so I want to say thank you for you guys. I started playing a lot better, and it was thanks to you guys and the crowd.”

These athletes are human, after all, and what Taylor is going through is so very human. So … what could it hurt, at this point?

Jim: My suspicion was that this would be taken out of the fans’ hands. But … a bulletin: Taylor’s in the lineup tonight against the Reds, hitting seventh (right in front of Outman, in fact). So let’s see how the fans react.

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