As 2014 comes to a close and the calendar turns toward 2015, here are a few of my favorite things – let’s just call it my latest annual wish list – for the ensuing 12 months of the forever-evolving world of sports.
January – When the voting results are announced next week, a slimmer, trimmer, humbled Barry Bonds pulls off the slugger of all upsets; he learns he has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Lest anyone forget, the former Giants outfielder was the greatest hitter of his generation long before his head swelled, his muscles bulged to bloated proportions, and his outsized ego occupied far too much space in the locker room. Though he was the star of the Steroid Era that filled ballparks and shattered home run records, he and dozens of his peers were indulged, encouraged or conveniently ignored by owners, managers and trainers alike. There are no clean hands here. But it’s time to wash up, move on and embrace the brave new world. Baseball today is a pitcher’s game (see Madison Bumgarner).
February – DeMarcus Cousins makes his All-Star debut despite dysfunction in the Kings’ front office, another coaching change, and another familiar team funk and disappointing midseason record. While the team lacks a collective identity, Boogie finally figures out who he is – the most gifted center in the league – and comports himself accordingly. He is rebounding, defending, muscling inside, scoring outside, converting with his left hand, with his right hand, and throwing passes that are darn near Vlade-esque.
The makeover began last summer when Cousins traveled to Spain, helped Team USA capture the World Cup, and came home a changed man, a wanted man. With Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo signing on as fans, his prospects for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team shift from unlikely to inevitable. More importantly and impressively than even his gawdy and ridiculously consistent stats, the fifth-year veteran is growing into the role of team leader. So Broadway, here he comes.
March – Major League Soccer executives make it official. Minneapolis is granted one of two expansion franchises, and because of Miami’s inability to produce a viable stadium plan, Republic FC steps up and steals the second MLS team. The blueprint consists of a downtown stadium and a training facility in soccer-crazed Elk Grove that includes 15 to 20 fields for youth programs and could be expanded in hopes of luring the U.S. women’s national team program. Oh, and Republic FC coach Preki keeps his job.
April – Embarrassed by all the losing and sensitive to the team’s disgruntled, discouraged fans, Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive does what he should have done when he fired Michael Malone in December: He opens his wallet and hires George Karl before another franchise can poach the 2012-13 Coach of the Year. This is a natural, an absolute no-brainer. For those with eyes, ears and a keen sense of smell, the innovative and outgoing Karl is the overwhelming people’s choice in Sacramento, and not merely because the onetime SuperSonics coach persistently and loudly advocated for keeping the Kings in Sacramento despite his obvious affinity for Seattle.
The résumé alone makes the case. Karl simply makes teams better. He is experienced, accomplished, available, interested. He also is one of those unique NBA coaches who maximizes talent, co-exists with difficult personalities, adapts to players’ strengths. He has won with defense (Seattle) and offense (Denver); in his last job, he squeezed 57 wins out of an ailing, modestly talented Nuggets squad. Though he favors a fast pace and emphasizes spacing, ball and body movement, he marvels at Cousins’ skills (listen to his ESPN analysis) and would have no trouble crafting and implementing offensive sets that accentuate the 6-foot-11 center’s abilities.
But this won’t be cheap. Malone is guaranteed $4 million this year and owed another $4 million next season. Karl would command at least that much, though given his yearning to return to the bench, he could be induced with additional incentives.
May – With Major League Baseball owners tired of the hefty revenue-sharing fees distributed annually to the wealthy but tight-fisted A’s, new Commissioner Rob Manfred facilitates an agreement between owner Lew Wolff and Oakland city officials for a state-of-the-art facility at the 50-acre Howard Terminal district just north of Jack London Square. It would be an ideal, gritty, convenient, East Bay waterfront complement to the Giants’ AT&T Park.
June – The Warriors defeat the Chicago Bulls for the NBA championship, and do so in grand style. Similar to the aging but still appealing San Antonio Spurs, Steve Kerr’s Warriors are a joy to watch with their passing, shooting, rebounding, pacing and swarming, aggressive defense. None of this happens, though, if Andrew Bogut remains anchored to the bench with injuries. Sorry. Health matters, especially in June.
July – True to their black-hat reputation, the Raiders sign running back Ray Rice to a one-year contract. When Rice rushes home to tell his wife, Janay, whom he punched unconscious and dragged out of a hotel elevator a year earlier, he finds his belongings on the front porch, the door locks changed, and a process server waiting with divorce papers. And Janay? Fully recovered from the blow to the head, and again thinking clearly, she demands full custody of the couple’s two children.
August – Vlade Divac is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the category pertaining to international contributors. Again, it’s all in the résumé. The Kings’ icon anchored phenomenal national teams in Yugoslavia and, later, Serbia; received numerous awards for his humanitarian and charitable efforts, most on behalf of children; and has overseen the Serbian national basketball team and the Olympic Committee. But back to the Kings. With extraordinary passing, crafty post moves and long, impactful interior presence, the affable 7-1 center was a crucial contributor and community ambassador during the Kings’ fleeting flirtation with championship contention. Increasingly in tune with the franchise’s long-suffering fans and cognizant of Divac’s unique value, the Kings’ ownership group brings Vlade back to the organization in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.
September – Second-year quarterback Derek Carr proves he can talk a good game and play an even better one. He leads the Raiders – yes, the Raiders – to a 4-0 record for the month. Can you imagine…?
October – Tim Lincecum relieves Bumgarner in the first inning of Game 7 of the World Series and holds the Los Angeles Angels hitless to earn the victory and clinch the Giants’ first title in an odd-numbered year this decade. And somewhere in the stands, Bonds and Dusty Baker are sitting, chatting, smiling, remembering 2002.
November – The Michigan Wolverines finish 0-12 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten Conference, and Jim Harbaugh is visibly, vocally, admittedly miserable. Hating the weather, despising the recruiting process, pining for California, unnerved by the 49ers’ surprising success, the former 49ers coach feels the seven-year itch after a one-year reunion with his alma mater. He sends out feelers to NFL teams. He wants out of school, he says, and back into the pros. Most assuredly, Bay Area viewers will have plenty of drama to monitor from afar.
December – So, for the first time in what feels like forever, the Kings open their holiday presents – and ho, ho, ho – find themselves staring at a winning record. As New Year’s Eve approaches, Cousins, Karl, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, etc., are the toast of the town. The champagne’s on them. The community is enveloped in one massive hugfest. The playoff chase looms.
Well, nothing’s impossible.
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.