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Current events have the Southland buzzing

BILL PLASCHKE

With Angels' signings, Lakers rumors, Trojans' resurgence, Bruins' hiring and the possibility of Magical Dodgers ownership, this is the place to be for a sports fan.

December 10, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • The Los Angeles sports landscape has been set ablaze this week with the hiring of Jim L. Mora as UCLA football coach, the proposed Lakers trade for Chris Paul and the Angels' acquisition of slugger Albert Pujols.
The Los Angeles sports landscape has been set ablaze this week with the hiring… (Photos by Getty Images and…)

For 18 long months, it disappeared.

In the time it takes Albert Pujols to go yard, it is back.

With the power of a Dwight Howard dunk, the strength of an Arte Moreno check and the brightness of a Magic Johnson smile, the trademark buzz of Los Angeles sports has come home for the holidays.

For more than a year after the Lakers' victory in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, our sports community endured a hangover that left us aching and sprawled across a landscape filled with empty seats, empty jerseys, empty coaches' offices and empty promises.

The Dodgers became a joke, the Lakers became a mystery, the Angels were lost, the Trojans were on probation and the Bruins sunk even deeper into ruins. The only two things this city did right were watched by few and understood by fewer -- the Galaxy won a soccer championship and Blake Griffin dunked over a car.

For 18 long months, being a Los Angeles sports fan was about as fun as being Don Mattingly's lineup card or Ben Howland's jaw.

But today, wow, whew, seriously, dude, you wouldn't want to be anything else.

The buzz is back. Good or bad, the buzz is everywhere. During the last eight days it howled through here like those Santa Ana winds, only, instead of pulling up trees, it has planted the enduring flower of Los Angeles sports known as hype.

In case you missed it -- how could you have missed any of it? -- here's an eight-day recap in chronological order of craziness.

The city's most beloved athlete, Magic Johnson, announces he is part of a billion-dollar group that wants to buy the city's most enduring team, the Dodgers.

The USC football team finishes the regular season ranked fifth in the Associated Press media poll, ending its second and final year of NCAA probation by setting the stage for a 2012 national championship run.

The Angels and owner Moreno spend $331.5 million in one day to sign baseball's best player, first baseman Albert Pujols, and one of its best left-handed pitchers, C.J. Wilson.

The Lakers announce their intention to remake their roster by trading for marquee point guard Chris Paul in a deal that is later revoked. They are now apparently amassing their assets to make a serious run at the game's marquee center, Dwight Howard.

UCLA hires a football coach named Jim Mora, who comes with the same NFL defensive pedigree as a former USC coach named Pete Carroll.

All these things occurred seemingly at the same time, furiously bouncing off each others' backs like fans moving through the Coliseum tunnel in the final moments before the third quarter, culminating Saturday in three events that were amazingly scheduled at exactly the same golden moment.

At 11:30 a.m., there was a welcome pep rally for Pujols and Wilson in Anaheim ? at the same time UCLA scheduled a conference call introducing Mora ? at the same time the Lakers were scheduled to discuss their chaotic trade situation with the media.

When Mora referred to the Bruins football program as a "sleeping giant," he could have been talking about this entire city's sports scene, which has been suddenly, splendidly rousted awake, two huge clomps on the floor, one huge stretch across the national sports consciousness, a familiar wry smile spreading from Westwood to Jered Weaver's locker.

Of course, it's not like the giant had a choice. The country's most sophisticated sports fans serve as a constant alarm clock to local sports teams who snooze. Entertain, or be ignored. Star power, or irrelevancy.

Winning is great, but sometimes winning isn't enough. Just ask UCLA's Howland, whose achievement of three consecutive Final Fours has never been able to overcome the perception that his teams are boring.

The moves of the past week have been both good and misguided, but at least all have been made in hopes of hanging the sports tinsel back on the town

Love the idea of Magic buying the Dodgers. The fractured organization needs a trusted, beloved and accomplished public figure to piece it back together. Magic is the perfect choice to handle the ball.

Love what Lane Kiffin has done with USC, as the only two better teams in the country right now are probably Louisiana State and Alabama. But his first real test will come next season with plenty of new pressures and probably no experienced quarterback.

Love, love, love the Angels signing Pujols and Wilson. Already they lead the league in attendance after drawing more than 4,000 fans to a plaza introductory news conference Saturday.

They will win and maybe, just maybe, Los Angeles will notice.

Hated the potential Chris Paul deal, love the idea of Dwight Howard, I'll probably keep writing this until it happens, then I'll write it in bold face. Howard will perhaps cost them Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but he will be worth it.

Intrigued by the Mora hiring. His NFL defense-oriented resume looks like Carroll's before he joined USC.

His introductory conference call interview sounded like Carroll when he called me after he was hired during this same week in 2000.

"I want us to become a football team that plays smart, that plays hard, that plays relentless," Mora said.

Mora has taken a team to the NFC championship game, so we know he can coach. He's a sophisticated defensive mind in a conference full of offensive hotshots, so we know he probably will not be outcoached.

But, like Carroll, he has never run a college program, so can he recruit?

Nobody knows, but his effort will be fun to watch.

We'll probably initially see him at a Lakers game, sitting across the aisle from Lane Kiffin in the lower bowl, watching Magic Johnson cheering pregame honoree Albert Pujols before both are hugged by new center Dwight Howard.

You hear that? The buzz is back.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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