Athletics

The Lakers have chosen their next head coach

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The Lakers have chosen their next head coach

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni late Sunday night, signing the former coach of the Suns and Knicks to replace Mike Brown.The Lakers and D'Antoni's agent, Warren LeGarie, confirmed the deal two days after the Lakers fired Brown five games into the season.D'Antoni agreed to a three-year deal worth 12 million, with a team option for a fourth season.D'Antoni got the high-profile job running the 16-time NBA champions only after the club's top brass extensively discussed the job with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.The 11-time NBA champion coach met with Lakers owners Jerry and Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Saturday to weigh a return for a third stint on Los Angeles' bench.The Lakers instead went with D'Antoni, a respected offensive strategist who coached Lakers point guard Steve Nash in Phoenix during the best years of their respective careers. D'Antoni was less successful during four seasons in New York, but at least restored the once-moribund Knicks to competence before resigning last March."Dr. (Jerry) Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak unanimously agreed that Mike was the best coach for this roster at this time," Lakers spokesman John Black said.The 61-year-old D'Antoni underwent knee replacement surgery earlier this month, and could be physically limited early his tenure. Black said the Lakers aren't certain when D'Antoni will travel to Los Angeles to begin work.Interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff will continue running the Lakers until D'Antoni arrives. Los Angeles beat Sacramento 103-90 on Sunday night, improving to 2-0 under Bickerstaff after a 1-4 start under Brown.The Lakers' next game is Tuesday night against San Antonio at Staples Center.After Brown's dismissal, Nash and Kobe Bryant both expressed enthusiasm about the prospect of playing for D'Antoni, although Bryant also campaigned eagerly for Jackson.Bryant idolized D'Antoni while growing up in Italy, where D'Antoni was a star player for Olimpia Milano in the Italian pro league. D'Antoni also has been an assistant coach on various U.S. national teams featuring Bryant, including the gold medal-winning squad at the London Olympics.Nash won two MVP awards while running D'Antoni's signature up-tempo offense for the final four seasons of the coach's five-year tenure with the Suns.Nash and D'Antoni won at least 54 games each season and reached two Western Conference finals -- and they eliminated Bryant's Lakers from the first round of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, still the only first-round exits of Kobe's 17-year career.D'Antoni then coached New York to just one playoff appearance and no postseason victories. He also coached the Denver Nuggets during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.But his NBA accomplishments can't measure up to Jackson, who won five titles and reached seven NBA finals during two stints totaling 11 seasons with Los Angeles.Jackson walked away from the club 18 months ago after a second-round playoff sweep by Dallas, and Brown led Los Angeles to a 41-25 mark followed by another second-round playoff defeat last summer.The Lakers then traded for Nash and Dwight Howard, setting up a season of enormous expectations for Brown -- but the Lakers struggled to learn his new, Princeton-influenced offense while playing mediocre defense.After the Lakers stumbled out of the gate while Howard and Bryant missed preseason games to preserve their health, Nash incurred a small fracture in his leg during the Lakers' second regular-season game, keeping him out of the lineup for their past five games and for at least another week.The Lakers have improved to 3-4 under Bickerstaff after following up their winless preseason with four losses in their first five regular-season games, the club's worst start since 1993.Despite his reputation for offensive acumen, D'Antoni's NBA teams typically have played fairly solid defense, statistically speaking -- and they never had the imposing Howard or defensive stopper Metta World Peace in their lineups.Nash had his best NBA seasons as the versatile quarterback of the Suns' offense under D'Antoni, and point guard Jeremy Lin became a star on the Knicks last season while filling much the same role.D'Antoni resigned late last season following a six-game losing streak, surprising many observers, and former assistant coach Mike Woodson led the Knicks to the playoffs.Phoenix visits Staples Center on Friday.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

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A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

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As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.