“The Clippers’ curse isn’t a supernatural phenomenon. It has a name, a face and an unfortunate history of personal failure.” – Kevin Arnovitz on Donald Sterling, 8/18/10.
In the end, Neil Olshey’s tenure as the Clippers’ General Manager concluded much like it began.
Prior to “The Decision” in the Summer of 2010, Olshey’s first act as full-time General Manager was to sit down in front of LeBron James. That was important in a vacuum, but having the foresight to leave Donald Sterling in Malibu was even more critical. In his opening act, Olshey showed a keen understanding of how the game was played. The meeting was never about getting LeBron — it was an audition to gain legitimacy. It’s not a coincidence that the process didn’t include Sterling.
Unfortunately, Sterling couldn’t stay hidden behind the curtain for long. The search for the next head coach of the Clippers came down to two candidates. Olshey wanted Dwane Casey, Sterling liked Vinny Del Negro. But hey, how often do you get a “presidential” coach on the cheap? And so, with Del Negro’s hiring, the chain of command was established.
Olshey lived to fight another day, and exercised patience in that year’s offseason by signing Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes to modest deals. It was far from the homerun many envisioned, but there was a plan in place. The Clippers were rebuilding and retaining cap flexibility with two players Del Negro wanted. Win-win.
Sadly, while all this was going on, someone forgot to yank Sterling off the stage. Sterling ended up telling T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, in regards to Gomes and Foye, that he “never heard of those guys.”
Sterling wanted something, he felt entitled to it, and that’s all that mattered. Anyone with knowledge of how the offseason played out could understand why the Clippers didn’t instantly net a star, but Sterling displayed the familiar combination of ignorance and entitlement we’ve grown accustomed to.
A lot changed over the next two seasons with Del Negro as coach and Olshey as General Manager. The Clippers appeared to become something entirely different than what they had previously been.
Even with the positive turnaround, the Clippers continued to pay Olshey on a month-to-month basis; like you or I would a Netflix subscription. The man who engineered one of the biggest trades in NBA history in favor of one of the most hapless franchises remained an at-will employee afterwards. As Olshey’s star continued to grow, and as the team improved, Sterling sat on his hands and gave Olshey a check every month with no long-term security attached. Months passed just like this, well before Portland would re-emerge as a candidate for Olshey’s services.
Was it because Olshey was the protege of Mike Dunleavy? The contract spat after Dunleavy’s firing –quite possibly Sterling’s biggest financial blunder in his eye — was still incredibly fresh. Maybe Sterling was weary of being taken to the cleaners again. Whatever it was, he willingly decided to pass on multiple opportunities to secure Olshey long-term, opting for the month-to-month pay Elgin Baylor had accepted for years.
On top of that, he ended up bringing back the coach Olshey didn’t want in the first place for another year.
How much had things really changed since 2010? Olshey had upheld his part of the bargain — he brought a big free-agent star to Los Angeles. He made the franchise appear respectable. He built a winner without going over budget. He made the most out of the small amount of resources provided to him. He earned serious Executive of the Year consideration. And never once was he rewarded by his boss. Not with more money. Not with more power. Not with more job security. Like a petulant child refusing to share his toys, Sterling didn’t want Olshey until someone else did.
“The money was a wash. It wasn’t about that. It was really about proactively the organization (Portland) was willing to make a commitment to me…I wanted to be here because Paul (Allen) wanted me to be here.” – Neil Olshey, 6/5/12
The main problem isn’t that the Clippers lost one of the brightest GM’s in the game to a Western Conference rival. Not to undermine his ability as a General Manager, but there will be other Neil Olsheys — talented people who will pass through the Clippers’ organization only to realize that their success rests in the hands of a man with a different definition of the word.
The real problem is what it’s always been. It’s the lack of any cohesive plan from the very top of the organization. It’s the failure to acknowledge personal limitations. It’s the refusal to be proactive. It’s the poor treatment of people.
It’s the lack of resources. It’s the laughable scouting budget. It’s the fact that a decent blog has more analytic guys on staff than the team does. It’s the uninformed meddling in critical decisions.
It’s Donald Sterling.
And as much as you try to ignore him and downplay his importance, he still factors prominently into the present and future of the team, both directly and indirectly. The Clippers as an organization are a still reflection of their owner — unstable, cheap and stubborn at the core.
What else can you say? The more things change, the more they stay the same.