Last Friday, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that, “[O]ne source plugged in to Clipperland insists owner Donald Sterling has already flirted seriously with the idea of dismissing Mike Dunleavy immediately.”
Despite the popular perception that Donald Sterling would never pay a coach not to work — particularly one still owed nearly $10 million through the summer of 2011 — it appears that the rumors are real. Warren LaGarie, Dunleavy’s agent, made a trip down to Los Angeles last week, surfacing in Playa during a Clippers practice, and was at Staples Center on November 13 watching two of his clients, Dunleavy and Toronto coach, Jay Triano, square off.
Smoke, meet fire.
One has to assume that the demoralizing loss to Toronto last Friday, in which the Clips blew a 22-point lead — turned the heat up even further on Dunleavy. The Clips departed on Saturday for a three-game swing through Oklahoma City, New Orleans (sans CP3) and Memphis. A 2-1 road trip would’ve likely bought Dunleavy some additional time, but after a spirited win in OKC against a good Thunder team, the Clips dropped two consecutive — and particularly ugly — games.
Ever since Elton Brand ruptured his Achilles tendon in August 2007, one of Mike Dunleavy’s mantras has been “give me healthy bodies and I’ll win you some basketball games.” Since that summer, there have been neither healthy bodies nor winning basketball. The 2007-08 squad was a MASH unit: Elton Brand logged eight games at the end of the season. Dan Dickau and Tim Thomas played more games than Sam Cassell and Chris Kaman respectively. And not since Airplane! have there been more incapicated bodies on a carrier than on the Clippers’ 2008-09 charter jet. These crippled Clippers squads combined for a 42-122 record, and last season’s lazy 19-63 team was particularly unpalatable.
The Clippers seemed primed for improvement after Kaman and Baron Davis showed up at training camp looking svelte, the team secured Blake Griffin, and a series of smart roster moves bolstered the Clippers’ depth. They came out of the gate 3-4 against tough competition, but have reeled off a 1-5 record since their best player, Eric Gordon, went down with a strained groin. Most profound than the 1-5 mark is the way the Clippers have lost — a brutal combination of lackadaisical blowouts and late-game choke jobs.
Those calling for Dunleavy’s firing have plenty of evidence to support their position. Rarely has a head coach survived so long with such a poor record. Dunleavy would probably counter that the 2009-10 team was playing well prior to Gordon’s absence, when the coach had — with Gordon and Kaman — his first legitmiate long-distance shooter/capable big man strong-side combination in Los Angeles since Cassell and Brand (though Sam averaged fewer than one 3-pointer/game as a Clipper).
Should Dunleavy be fired immediately? It’s under serious consideration, according to sources.
If I were Mike Dunleavy and Warren LeGarie, here’s how I would construct my defense:
- With Eric Gordon healthy, the Clippers have outscored the competition — competition that includes the three top teams in the Western Conference.
- Eric Gordon’s net overall on/off rating of places him the NBA’s Top 10.
- The unit of Davis-Gordon-Butler-Camby-Kaman absolutely crushed their opponents, outscoring them 223-184 over 99 minutes.
- This unit wasn’t merely good. In fact, there is only one unit in basketball that’s logged more minutes, more efficiently (Miami’s unit of Chalmers-Wade-Richardson-Beasley-O’Neal).
Given these data, if I were Dunleavy and his representatives, I would lobby Clippers ownership and its principals for a stay of execution until Gordon returns to the lineup.
At that time, if the team can’t show significant improvement with a healthy Eric Gordon — and demonstrate that improvement quickly — then any decision by the organization is fair game.