Doubling as what could have been the dullest episode of Law & Order, the Clippers have lived up to one of their more dubious reputations.
They’re cheap. And they’ll go to court to prove it.
In late July, the team accused Mike Dunleavy of fraud, alleging that their much-maligned former coach/GM ”had no intentions to perform his duties and obligations as head coach through the 2010-11 season.”
On August 17, owner Donald Sterling denigrated off-season free agent acquisitions Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes, telling TJ Simers of The Los Angeles Times, “If I really called the shots we wouldn’t have signed Gomes and what’s the other guy’s name? (Foye).
“I swear to you, I never heard of these guys,” he continued. “But what if the coach says he wants them?”
To Sterling, I suppose not signing Lebron James, meant not signing anybody.
Two days later former advance scouts Jerry Holloway and Scott Wissel accused Sterling and the organization of breach-of-contract for failing to pay them. Robert H. Platt, the team’s General Counsel, said Holloway and Wissel were “at-will” employees, meaning they effectively were not under contract.
And, of course, there is still that pesky Elgin Baylor lawsuit. The one where Baylor, the ex-General Manager, alleges that the team (specifically Sterling) discriminated against his race and age when determining to sever ties with him after 16 years.
If the Clippers 2010 off-season were a dumpster it would now be on fire; a train, it would have wrecked; a widow, weeping.
And per the norm, actual basketball is the least of the team’s problems, which is saying a mouthful considering they’ve won 71 games in the last three seasons combined. According to Jeff Van Gundy, who clearly lost more brain cells than first thought when Marcus Camby punched him in 2001, the un-guardable Heat will surpass that number in one year.
Curiously, Dunleavy’s firing coincided with the onset of season ticket renewals as they shedded Marcus Camby, Al Thornton, and Sebastian Telfair from the books and did little to denounce rumors about high-profile coaches. The James talk gained steam when Cleveland visited Los Angeles in January, eventually ruling the headlines for much of March and April as the moribund, lottery-bound Clippers needed to inspire what Bill Simmons has called the illusion of regret. They trekked to Akron and met with James, knowing they had as much of a chance as Lloyd Christmas did with Mary Swanson. Finally, they settled on Vinny Del Negro and signed Gomes and Foye.
I’m not one for conspiracies, but…
It’s the Clippers.
The same team that filed a 1998 lawsuit against one-time coach Bill Fitch for not seeking employment after the team fired him with two years remaining on his contract. The same owner who settled a housing discrimination suit for $2.725 million, the largest monetary settlement of its kind, with the same lawyer, Platt.
On the court, missing out on James bringing his “talents” to Playa Vista was hardly a crisis. Failing to sign a “marquee” free agent, short of giving Rudy Gay or Joe Johnson a Godfather contract, was probably a mistake avoided.
In effect they added four rookies (Blake Griffin included), Foye, and Gomes to what amounts to the same core group from last season, which only fails because it does not generate the kind of league-wide buzz the Clippers feigned to hope for.
Sterling, though, can create his own buzz–it just happens to sound like gnats. No one in sports is capable of annoying his team’s fan base quite like him. It’s one thing for an owner to seemingly sabotage their franchise by being too involved in personnel decisions (Michael Jordan, anyone). But to do so every time he opens his mouth?
Now, rumors persist that Los Angeles is one of the most likely destinations for the supposedly disgruntled Carmelo Anthony. They have the pieces Denver wants: youth, draft picks, cap relief. But will they be too cheap to use it?
And while the on-court fantasy of teaming ‘Melo with Griffin, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and Baron Davis could be a tantalizing proposition for the 26-year-old forward. It’s all of the other things that should worry him, especially if it has anything to do with Robert H. Platt.