Ray Ratto

Ratto: Kobe is Kobe, but who are the Warriors?


Ratto: Kobe is Kobe, but who are the Warriors?


The Warriors established their place in the NBA firmament Wednesday night, for all the good that did them.They are 48 points better than Cleveland, and in optimal conditions,when the other team has played the night before and needs a full halfto get started, they are within five points of the Lakers. For those ofyou scoring at home, thats 115-110.
RELATED: Lakers surge back in fourth to drop Warriors
Now make of that what you will.The Warriors are a strange team but not nearly as weird as they were ayear ago when they were known for two things their conscience-lessshooters and uninvolved defenders. They were, in short, hard on the eyeand hard on the psyche again.They are not dramatically better now than they were a year ago, atleast not in relation to the teams around them in the WesternConferences Desolation Row. They come closer to resembling a normalNBA team, and they have a full-on go-to player in Monta Ellis, whosegame and fame have broadened in tandem.RELATED: NBA Standings
Thus, they can rise on occasion, as they did for a half and changeWednesday night. Before a sellout crowd that was evenly split betweenWarrior fans and Kobe Bryant fans, Golden State gave what passes forits A-game for 30 minutes or so. They led by as much as 14, and theygave indications that they could take advantage of a Laker team thatwas shagged out from holding Cleveland to 57 points the night before.
REWIND: Lakers 112, Cavaliers 57
Then came the whoosh of Bryant, airborne and with full wingspan andplumage. Having taken the first half easy (nine points, five turnoversin 17 minutes) and looking for his teammates to an almost annoyingdegree, he roused himself for a performance so Kobe-istic that bothfactions in the crowd could only suck wind in admiration as he removedthe game from Ellis hands and made his own.He made nine of his last 11 shots; he hit all of his free throws. Hescored 30 points in his final 14 minutes of play (he sat out the firstsix minutes of the fourth quarter). He faced up to Ellis as he has somany times before and reminded the Warrior that the pecking orderremains unchanged after all these years. What Bryant wants, when Bryantwants it, Bryant gets.It was, in short, one more example of why the Lakers are the Lakers, and the Warriors are, well, not.But it didnt do so much to explain who and what the Warriors are. Thedifferences between these two teams are indelible, and the Lakershavent been a reasonable measuring stick for the Warriors in nearlytwo decades.The only thing the Warriors proved tonight is that Ellis is gettingcloser to that elite group of off-guards. They still have the otherquirks that prevent them from being a .500 team, and while Wednesdaywas fun, Friday against the Clippers will be a truer test of where theyactually sit.We need to make the most of this stretch of home games, Ellis said afterward. This is our chance to make a move.
VIDEO: Monta Ellis postgame
But the Warriors dont make moves at the Lakers expense. The Lakersare second; the Warriors 12th, and only a game and a half better thanthe other L.A.s. What Ellis provided tonight was entertainment; what hemust provide Friday is leadership in a winnable game against acontemporary for no better reason that they dont really want theeighth-place Portlands to run away from them.Oh yes, watching Ellis and Bryant duel in the evening light before asellout crowd was all the fun you could have imagined it to be. Itrevealed little of lasting substance, though. In fact, it wasnt evenall that much of a duel Ellis owned the first 30 minutes when Bryantwas largely inert, Bryant the last eight minutes of the third and lastsix minutes of the fourth when Ellis was on his heels.And it was another loss, and the Warriors are now 15-23 not even goodenough to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. It was definitely ahoot, and watching Bryant and Ellis made it all the better. As anindicator of where the Warriors actually are, though, it wasinconclusive.But it sure beat being Cleveland Tuesday night. LeBron James didntTweet a single word. Of such small victories are big victoriesoccasionally made.What's on your mind? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.