There were parts of this move that were still vintage classless Clippers. Like Mike Dunleavy saying he learned he was fired from the Internet and people calling him, not the Clippers (they said they called but didn’t get him). Or the players learning about it after the game just seconds before the media came in. It was announced during a Clippers road game and broadcast.
It had all the earmarks of an impulsive move. But that doesn’t make it wrong.
The Clippers needed to make an organizational change, and short of Donald Sterling selling this team (not going to happen, folks) this was it. And Sterling did it for the right reasons, he is aiming big.
The irony is Dunleavy was sacked three weeks after he did his best work as general manager (although there are reports that new GM, and then assistant, Neil Olshey, had a very big role in all that). At the trade deadline, the Clippers shoehorned their way into deals and traded oversized contracts and a good player in Marcus Camby to clear out $5.5 million, enough cap space to allow the Clippers to go after a major free agent this summer.
Sterling wants to use that money to get a name free agent – to remake the image of his Clippers. He realized that to do that he needed a sea change. He can tell LeBron James or Dwyane Wade they can come here and pick their own coach (expect neither role to be filled until after the July 1 free agency deadline). Or he can hire a recognizable basketball mind to run the organization.
That, by the way, likely will not be Larry Brown — any reaching out to the Clippers he did was because if Michael Jordan had been out as Bobcats owner Brown likely would have been as well. So he started covering his bases. Then at the last minute Jordan stepped up, and with his North Carolina ties (not to mention he’s doing a good job) he is safe.
On some levels, this has to be a tempting place to land for a general manager. The Clippers have a good lineup already — All-Star Chris Kaman at center, number-one pick Blake Griffin at power forward, Baron Davis (well, he can be good when he wants to be) at point guard, plus good role players such as Eric Gordon, Rasual Butler, Steve Blake and DeAndre Jordan. Plus they will have another lottery pick in a pretty deep draft.
If they can land a big-time swingman, they will be position to be a very good team. This move was about getting that man.
Clippers fans dream of LeBron James — as does everyone — but that remains the most pipe of pipe dreams (he likely never leaves Cleveland). Dwyane Wade is also unlikely to leave Miami. A more likely scenario would be the Clippers getting someone such as Rudy Gay out of Memphis, who fills that swingman role. However, the Clippers likely would have to overpay to lure him in.
Any big time free agent with half a brain wants to see an ownership committed to winning. The Clippers have never had those in Los Angeles. That — well that and signing a deal to work for a guy fighting off discrimination suits at his main job, — means guys concerned with global status and shoe sales will not come to the Clippers.
If Donald Sterling’s hire is a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” someone with his hands tied by Sterling’s frugality, then this will all have been words without meaning. But if there is a genuine change, this is a team where the foundation of something good is in place. Where the Clippers can be, dare we say, winners.
The Clippers did the right thing, severing ties with Dunleavy. Whether they continue to do the right thing is the bigger question.