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September 8, 2010
On the Beat
L.A. Stories

by John Perrotto

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The Lakers and Clippers share the Staples Center but that is really about the only thing the two Los Angeles franchises have in common.

The Lakers are coming off winning back-to-back NBA titles and owner Jerry Buss is openly welcoming the Miami Heat's challenge to his team's crown. Meanwhile, Clippers owner Donald Sterling is complaining that general manager Neil Olshey did not have a good offseason after the team went 29-53 failed to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Buss' old friend, general manager and coach Pat Riley, has assembled quite the cast in his role as president of the Heat. Not only did the Heat re-sign Dwayne Wade, Miami also hit the free agent jackpot by also signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

"Suddenly, there's this juggernaut out there that we have a chance to play against and that excites me," Buss said. "Quite honestly, I think we can beat them and I'm looking forward to playing them."

While no one had an offseason quite like the Heat, the Lakers worked to improve their championship club. They signed forwards Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff and guard Steve Blake as free agents and re-signed guards Shannon Brown and Derek Fisher.

"As of now, I feel there's a good chance this could be the best team we've ever had," Buss said.

That the Lakers were so busy in free agency was a bit of a surprise. There was speculation after The Finals that Buss might trim the payroll this season.

"At least it has softened my attitude towards women in the mall because I can't turn down things, either," Buss quipped.

Meanwhile, Sterling isn't as excited about the Clippers' chances in 2010-11 following an offseason in which their main moves were signing forward Ryan Gomes and guard Randy Foye as free agents.

"If I really called the shots, we wouldn't have signed Gomes and ... what's the other guy's name?" Sterling told the Los Angeles Times. "They told me if we built a new practice facility we'd attract all the top players. I guess I should have doubled the size."

The Clippers did hire a new coach in Vinny Del Negro, who was fired by the Bulls at the end of the season. Del Negro has been saying ever since being hired that the Clippers could vastly improve without turning over the roster.

"I really like the coach," Sterling said.

The Clippers should also have forward Blake Griffin this upcoming season. The first overall pick in the 2009 draft missed his entire rookie year because of knee injuries.

"Blake Griffin did very well in summer league play two years ago," Sterling said. "No, he's not better than LeBron and Kobe (Bryant), but everybody is excited to see him play."

Nuggets' New Exec Must Sell Anthony

Masai Ujiri must jump right into the fire as the Denver Nuggets' new executive vice president of basketball operations. His first order of business is to try to convince his best player, forward Carmelo Anthony, to stay for the long haul.

"I'm excited to meet with Melo and just go over everything," Ujiri said. "I don't know what difference I'm going to make, but I'm excited. This has been Melo's team and Melo's city almost, basketball-wise. He's built a legacy here. The players who have played in one city and stayed in one city have done pretty well."

Returning to the Nuggets is a homecoming of sorts for Ujiri. The 39 year old was a scout in the organization from 2003-07 before becoming the assistant general manager with the Raptors.

Josh Kroenke will have an increased role in personnel decisions as he is being elevated to an ownership role now that his father Stan Kroenke has become owner of the NFL's St. Louis Rams. Ujiri will handle the Nuggets' daily operations.

"I had a great time in Denver and a great working experience," Ujiri, 39, said. "It made me grow in the business. I just thought one day we might unite again. I remember saying that to a lot of people and here it is."

Ujiri, who grew up in Nigeria, also becomes the first native of Africa to hold an NBA executive position.

"It's just an unbelievable opportunity for me," Ujiri said. "I carry the continent of Africa on my shoulders proudly. To be given this opportunity, it is a blessing."

Thorn Takes New Role

While Ujiri is a newcomer to the executive role, 69-year-old Rod Thorn is an old-timer. Nevertheless, he is in a new job after taking over as the Philadelphia 76ers' president on Aug. 12.

Thorn seemingly has his work cut out for him as the Sixers not only finished 27-55 last season but had 14 players with guaranteed contracts that left them with almost no flexibility. Thus, Thorn was unable to remake a roster that has an abundance of wing players but few big men.

"We have some good pieces," Thorn said. "I like some of the pieces we have."

Thorn has proven he can turn around a struggling franchise. The Nets reached consecutive NBA Finals under his stewardship in 2002 and 2003 by making such moves as trading Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd and acquiring first-round draft picks Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins for Eddie Griffin.

"You have to make decisions," Thorn said. "If you think something (is worthwhile), you have to go try to do it."

Blanks Emphasizes Defense

New Phoenix Suns general manager Lance Blanks thinks playing defense is a worthwhile endeavor and helps teams win championship. That is a change in philosophy for the Suns, who are an up-tempo team with Steve Nash at point guard and a lack of size in the frontcourt.

"Alvin has started to institute defense around here," Blanks said. "They're saying it a lot more. "I love the way this team and this organization has played, even over the years. Getting up and down the floor is an exciting brand of basketball and very entertaining. I know that it's been extremely successful. This team is a lot closer to winning and being successful than it is not being successful. I'm not so sure that there's a lot to be tweaked."

Blanks is the first GM in franchise history without any previous ties to the Suns. He had most recently been the Cavaliers' assistant GM and was the Spurs' scouting director before that.

John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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