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The LAist Interview: J.A. Adande

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On Thursday May 5, LAist Sports Editor Phil Wallace interviewed Los Angeles Times Sports Columnist J.A. Adande. The two discussed everything from Adande's start in journalism to the future of the Los Angeles Lakers to the best column Adande ever wrote. Q: Age and occupation?

A: 34. Los Angeles Times Sports Columnist

Q: How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?

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A: I’ve been back out here for eight years. I grew up out here, in Santa Monica. I’m currently living in – I call it Marina Del Reyish. Not quite Marina Del Rey. Not quite Mar Vista. Marina Del Rey sounds good enough for me.

Q: Alright, Marina Del Rey it is. Now, we got in touch with you through [Interview Editor] Jessica Ritz who went to Crossroads. We heard you were the editor of the Crossroads newspaper. How does that compare to the LA Times?

A:[Laughs] It’s an extraordinary difference. We came out 3-4 times a year. They just had a reunion for the Crossfire, and they made up a poster with all of the covers of the other Crossfires. So I looked at my little section, and there were only like 12 of them. And I said, ‘man all that work’… because it seemed like I was working on that paper all the time. We come out with seven a week here [at the Times]. So that was a big difference when I went to college, and we’re coming out with the Daily Northwestern. All of a sudden it’s five days a week. And now of course it’s every single day, and just the impact, knowing that every single person is reading it.

Q: Did you always want to be a journalist?

A: Yeah, pretty much since 8th Grade. I originally wanted to be the next Chick Hearn. That’s what got me started.

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Q: What journalist did you admire most growing up?
A: Jim Murray, for sure. The greatest sports columnist ever. I got to grow up reading Jim Murray. Listening to Chick Hearn. Listening to Vin Scully. People in LA, especially my generation and older, really had the best of the best. We were spoiled. I've lived around the country, I've seen how they do it elsewhere. And no one had it as good as LA had it in the 1980s. Especially with the strength of the Times Sports Section.

You had Jim Murray, Rick Reilly, Richard Hoffer, Gordon Edes, Scott Ostler, Mike Downey... It was such an incredible roster. And a lot of guys who work for us now, Mark Heisler, Mike Penner. There was so much talent that was on our pages. That's a tradition that we try to carry on now. And I feel like that's the standard that's been set. We really are, I think, one of the greatest sports sections in the country.

Q: Who is more fun to hang out with: T.J. Simers or Bill Plaschke?

A: Plaschke's my guy. We had our show together. We had a lot of fun, especially during the Laker run, we'd always be sitting together, cracking jokes. I'd have to explain the NBA to him. [Laughs] Bill is one of my better friends on the staff.

Q: Who is a better host of "Around the Horn", Max Kellerman or Stat Boy?

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A: Max kind of appreciated some of the off-topic things that I did. And I probably had a better relationship with Max. But Tony [Reali] and I have really grown. And Tony is really making an effort. I think Tony is at the stage where he understands me now too.

Tony was put in a tough position, just kind of being thrown in on the spot. I think he's really adjusted well. What he's done is a good job of making it his own now. I think he was filling shoes for a while. And now he's THE host. There's no doubt about it. Tony Reali is the host.

He sent all of us a real nice Christmas card this year. And I appreciated that connection. Plus the two times that I've been back there, he's been great. There's a great deli next door [to the studios in Washington], and he's hooked me up with a couple of great turkey sandwiches.

Q: Who should be the Lakers head coach next season, and who will be the Lakers head coach next season?

A: I think you ought to do it in reverse. I think it will be Phil Jackson. Those are the signs and all of the indications after we sat down with Jerry Buss [on May 4]. Honestly, I don't think he's the long-term solution. I think he's almost like a panic move for them. I call them 'the desperate franchise,' and they're desperate to regain some status, and that much sought after buzz that's so essential in LA. Phil Jackson is the sexy name out there. I think he can translate into a few more victories. But he's not the guy that's going to get them to a championship.

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They have a lot more pressing needs than which coach they're going to have to get back to a championship level. I don't think he's the guy that's going to be around long enough to be coach of the team when they're ready to compete again for a championship. You're kind of junking your long-term plans, because you're going to have to tool the team to his likes. He likes veteran guards, veteran players, older guys - that's the essence of a Phil Jackson team and that's not going to pay off down the road.

They catered to him when he first got there, bringing in older guys like Ron Harper, keeping guys like Brian Shaw around, and that was the right move because they won three championships that way. But that's part of the reason why they're in the situation they're in now. Because they were so committed to the now, which I think you have to do if you have a chance at a championship, but that's not going to help you out long-term. And if they go after everything right now, and try to do it the Phil Jackson way, I think in seven years they're going to be stuck again.

Q: But they're in a situation though where they have no cap space anyway until 2007, so maybe they should try to milk all they can out of what they have now?

A: Well, that's only getting you to, at best to the second round of the playoffs. It's better to be at extremes in the NBA. It's better to be way under the salary cap, it's better to be really bad so you get a high draft pick.

Drafting like 15th - there's no use to that. Having a payroll that gets you only $2-3 million under the salary cap, there's no use to that. So you're not going to be able to get anything with a mid-round draft pick or minimal salary space available. In the NBA, you need to go to the extremes. And then, you need to just have lightning strike.

Q: You don't think that Lamar Odom could be Scottie Pippen, and that Kobe Bryant could be Michael Jordan. And you can get away with a Luc Longley-type at center, within a Phil Jackson triangle?

A: No. Their games don't mesh. That's part of the problem. That's one of the reasons why the trade was so bad. The best player you acquired in the trade, and the second-best player on the team, his game doesn't fit with Kobe Bryant. Both Kobe and Lamar need to have the ball in their hand.

Kobe doesn't play well off the ball. Lamar doesn't play well off the ball. Both of them need the ball in their hands in order to be effective. Lamar was effective in Miami, because they ran the offense through him. He touched it every time they ran down the court. Kobe is obviously at his best when he has the ball, and he's creating, and looking for shots. Or when he's creating for his teammates, when he decides to do that... They nullify each other.

Q: So if you were [Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak for a day, what would you do to change or fix the Lakers?

A: They're stuck. I was thinking they really need to trade Lamar, because if you get something for him, he's got a nice contract, you can get a good player in exchange. But now he's got shoulder surgery. So he's on the shelf for a few months, so I don't see what you could get for him right now.

I wouldn't be in a rush to trade Caron Butler, or maybe you trade him and package him with Devean [George] just because their contracts are expiring, and maybe you can get a pretty decent player that way.

But if I were Mitch, I would draft somebody like Raymond Felton and get a good point guard, and start there. Because I think that's the best type of player that's going to be available at their draft pick at No. 10, presuming they're at No. 10.

And then I would bring in some guys that really know how to win ... a guy like Antonio Davis is really helpful for Chicago, a veteran big man. I'd try to get somebody like PJ Brown - you're going to have to fill a bunch of contracts together to match his contract. Just a veteran guy, kind of what they hoped to have in Brian Grant, a good tough rebounder, and then surround these guys with young kids. And just really plan out for the future. You get young guys.

I love what the Bulls did in getting guys who have taken their teams to the Final Four, or been successful in the Final Four. You don't fall in love with the high school players. You don't fall in love with the foreign players. To me, it's pretty much proven that if a guy can get it done in the NCAA Tournament, then he's going to have a pretty good shot in the pros. They've shown they know how to win at the highest level available to them.

Q: Switching to the Dodgers, is Paul DePodesta a genius or an idiot?

A: It remains to be seen. This was his first full season. He inherited a lot last year. He was unafraid to take a stick of dynamite to that team in the middle of the season. He made some bold moves, you could say. He made some mistakes in the offseason, some would say. You have to wait on that. If they're sitting there in the World Series in October, he's obviously got the last laugh.

I will say there's a lot of people, even a lot of entrenched baseball minds that are questioning how he's doing it. I don't think you can reinvent the wheel. I think teams are built on great pitching staffs, defense up the middle, and then clutch hitters. I'm not a big fan of the whole on-base percentage and OPS and all the new stats theories that are in vogue right now.

To me, does the guy deliver? I guess if you want to look at the non-traditional stats besides those big three triple crown stats, what does he with runners in scoring position? What does he hit with two outs? Those are some of the stats I'd look at more than how often he walks. Or how often he gets on base. I'm not concerned about him getting on base, as much as I'm concerned about people who can do something, people who can score themselves, get the home run, or drive in the guys who are on base ahead of them.

I do think there is some value in stolen bases. Ask the Boston Red Sox how important Dave Roberts' steal was in Game 4 [of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees]. He turned around that whole series with a stolen base. To me it's a critical element in all sports.

Q: I have a lot of people tell me that the Times coverage of the Dodgers is too negative. Do you feel that's true? I know you guys have been hard on Frank McCourt recently, and some of that may be well deserved, but do you think you are too negative with the Dodgers?

A: I don't think so. The Dodgers are a public trust. And McCourt talks about that a lot. And it's our job to hold them accountable. And certainly they've gotten their degree of praise when things go right. Going to the playoffs and winning a playoff game was a step forward for this franchise.

It's funny, but you never hear 'is the media too negative of the presidential administration? Is the media too negative in their coverage of City Hall?' I think we should look at them with a critical eye. We're trying to hold them accountable. We're trying to help you decide whether or not this is something you want to invest your money in.

Fans invest so much emotionally into the teams, and now it's such a significant financial investment to take your family to a game. I want to make sure that you're getting the best product for your money. I want to hold these teams, hold these owners and these players accountable. Sometimes that might be deemed as negative. But I see it as positive.

If the weatherman says it's going to rain tomorrow, that there's a 60-percent chance of rain, is he being too negative or is he telling you what you need to know?

Q: What is your favorite LA sports talk radio show?

A: I like Joe and Doug in the afternoons - The McDonnell-Douglas Show [on KSPN 710 AM]. And I'm really glad to have Tony Bruno back on in the morning [now on KMPC 1540 AM].

Q: What do you think is the best article, column, or news story that you have ever written?

A: The column I wrote after my mom passed away, five years ago in June.

Every column of mine, I go back and read, and I think there's always something that I would have done differently. I like them less and less. The more I read my columns, the less I like them, because the more faults I find. But with that one, that's one thing I wouldn't change at all.

Honestly, that's the one that I don't think I could improve if I had 100 days to write it, or if I had ten more chances to write it, I don't think I could have written it any better than I wrote that one.

I always say a story or a column can only be as good as its subject matter. In that case, that was the best subject I had, was my mom. She was such a great person.

It's just funny how everything worked out. I wrote about how I was getting ready to go to cover Wimbledon and the British Open, and the only two people I mentioned by name were Pete Sampras and Tiger Woods. And they both wound up winning their respective events that year. Even that part of it holds up, 5 years later. That's the only one I have hanging in my house, right by my door when you come in. It just means a lot.

People years after I wrote it, came up to me and said 'that column you wrote about your mom really hit me.' The best part was people said 'it inspired me to call my mom and tell her I love her,' or 'it reminded me of my mother who I lost with breast cancer, and my wife I lost with breast cancer.' So many people had been through a common experience like this. It was a nice salute to all moms, I think, and especially my mom.