Report: NBA considering countersuit against Donald Sterling

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This is going to get uglier before it ends. A lot uglier.

Donald Sterling has sued the NBA and has a team of investigators digging up whatever they can on the NBA owners — and it’s safe to imagine that there is some ugly stuff that can be dug up. The league’s reaction has essentially been to shrug. The league’s position is that Shelly Sterling is the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust (which owns the Clippers) after she had Donald declared mentally incapacitated and in that role she can sell the team. She also gave the league indemnity against Donald’s lawsuit — even if he wins $1 billion in court, he gets paid out of the Sterling Trust.

At least the league has shrugged up to now, but they may well choose to countersue reports Michael McCann at Sports Illustrated.

The league will answer Sterling’s complaint by August 11, and sources tell SI.com there is a good chance the league will countersue Sterling. The NBA could raise a tortious interference with contractual relations claim, and contend that Sterling has interfered in the business relations of the NBA and one of its franchises by interfering with the sale of the team.

Of course, that just adds to the legal mess. It would be more about leverage — “we’ll drop our lawsuit if you drop yours” — than actually expecting to get anything out of Sterling.

All of that is really the sideshow. An ugly, loud, potentially embarrassing sideshow, but a sideshow nonetheless.

The only thing that really matters is the July 7 probate court hearing on Sterling’s mental competency and with that control of the Sterling Family Trust. Shelly Sterling got Donald to take neurological tests after his CNN interview (about the leaked tapes of his prejudiced statements that started this entire situation) and with the results of those had him declared mentally incapacitated under the rules laid out in the Trust. That left her as the sole trustees and she set up the $2 billion sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer (in which she still gets perks and basically an “owner emeritus” status).

If the probate judge sides with Shelly Sterling, the sale to Ballmer goes through and Donald’s lawsuit is simply a nuisance (in which he has to pay himself any money he wins).

If the judge sides with Donald Sterling and re-instates him as a trustee, blocking the sale to Ballmer, the NBA will go back to Plan A and have the other owners vote on whether to strip him of his franchise. Sterling sent out a long, crazy rant basically calling that unAmerican but the fact is this is more like being part of a country club — if you do something to violate the club bylaws (and Sterling has done that by being bad for business) the other club members can vote you out. Whether or not that was a private recording leaked to the public, it certainly has damaged the Clipper brand and the NBA brand (sponsors have pulled out of the team and players have discussed a boycott) and the other owners have the right to vote who they do business with.

What Sterling can do is sue the league, dig up dirt and make it an ugly mess.

None of that is going to help him keep his team. Rather, the opposite.

LeBron James will play in opener against Celtics

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Did we really expect anything else?

LeBron James was a game-time decision for the season opener in Cleveland against Boston and Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle. We expected he would go, but ankles can be tricky and are easy to re-injure once sprained, so the Cavs wanted to be careful.

He’s going to play. Coach Tyronn Lue made it official.

LeBron is the best player on the planet, but he can coast through the regular season at times. What teams try to avoid is giving him extra motivation… say bringing in a guy who left the team last summer on opening night. Expect full force LeBron tonight.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.