Donald Sterling speaks unnecessarily. Chris Paul gets angry. We’ve all heard the stories, read the comments, wondered what the heck is going on that a re-signing that seemed like a foregone conclusion could suddenly be called into question. So let’s lay the pieces out and, evaluating the board, determine how much of this is checkers and how much is chess.
A Reverse Timeline
The Clippers’ front office releases a statement taking responsibility for Vinny Del Negro’s release.
“The decision not to extend a contract to Vinny Del Negro was an organizational decision from the top down,” Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks said. “Our front office evaluated the season and Vinny’s three years here before making this move, and our conclusion and feeling was that we needed a change.”
This is the clean up. In essence, nothing elucidating was revealed in Gary Sacks’ comments. It simply rectifies the comments that Sterling made initially to set off the firestorm of uncertainty regarding Chris Paul. But can a front office immediately come out and publicly correct their owner? Players may be contractors to franchises, looking for the most money and the right fit, but executives and staffs of an organization are employees. To openly redress ones owner would be tantamount to insubordination. Which is why Chris Broussard’s story is necessary.
Chris Broussard reports that a source close to Chris Paul says Paul is upset at being blamed for Del Negro removal.
“He’s angry right now and his anger is directed toward the Clippers organization,” the source said. “Chris is a man of principle and if he feels like you’ve gone against his principles, it will affect how he feels about you. He’s very agitated that his name has been put out there as the reason for Vinny’s firing. He had nothing to do with it.”
Chris Paul is hyper-aware of his image and reputation, and he goes to great lengths to avoid any off-court conflicts. Never in the two years under Del Negro did Paul publicly, or second hand, even remotely criticize the former coach of the Clippers. And while everyone is focusing on the fact that Paul is upset and how that affects his free agency, a moment to diagnose Chris Paul’s perspective:
1. Why would Chris Paul need to speak out against Del Negro? Simply based on the situation, there was unrest in the locker room, there exists a general consensus that Del Negro is not a “plus coach” in terms of Xs & Os (i.e. he doesn’t run/design sophisticated schemes), and he caused a certain amount of unrest in the locker room, culminating in Del Negro side-stepping the front office to try and broker the rumored Garnett deal. There is more than enough reason to let Vinny Del Negro go based on his own shortcomings. Paul simply removing himself from the equation allowed the front office and owner to make the decision unfettered by players’ desires.
2. Even if Paul did say he wanted Del Negro removed (just to reiterate, he did not), why should that information become public knowledge? Isn’t an organization’s chief concerns to win championships and protect the players they determine can do that?
Which begs the question: why does Paul even have to be upset?
Donald Sterling accepts an interview to speak on his thoughts regarding Vinny Del Negro’s contract expiration.
“No, you’re not off base,” Sterling said. “This is a players’ league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy. Don’t you think that’s true?”
And this is where the fracas begins. Sterling says nothing untrue, but is complicit in his words being twisted into suggesting that Paul is the reason Del Negro was let go. Continuing on:
I answered: “No. Money makes players happy.”
“It’s not entirely true. Money is not the only thing that makes them happy,” Sterling said. “They want to win, and they want the best opportunity to win. Do they know what the best opportunity to win is? I frankly don’t know.
“But if you have special players, and special players think that they know the best opportunity to win, you have to support them.”
What exactly is Sterling saying that is wrong there? Money isn’t everything to elite players? That players want to win? He admits he doesn’t how to best determine the opportunities to win, but that if his star players do, he would support them. Isn’t that what any player would want to hear? Owners are not basketball wonks, living and breathing Xs & Os. Owners pay the bills. And if one is open enough to admit he doesn’t know everything and accepts the input of more intelligent people, that is usually something to be lauded.
Except these comments are framed around the construct of players disliking a coach. Sterling’s desire to appear ineffectual allows his statements to be colored by the text around them. The more important question here, though, is why Sterling is even being interviewed? What is the motive for seeking out an owner who has been known to give quixotic quotes? What is the purpose in creating a narrative that points the finger at the stars of a team for a coach’s release? It would be akin to blaming the doctors for a patient that died of natural causes.
Kevin Arnovitz speaks about Del Negro and the hiring process moving forward.
“But Donald T. Sterling has always taken the coaching hire as a personal imperative.”
And Arnovitz bookends the timeline with effectively the same thought process. If Chris Paul lobbied hard to keep Del Negro, would he still be the coach of the Clippers? Possibly, but Paul ostensibly made no endorsement one way or the other after last season and Del Negro returned as coach. This was a decision ultimately that rested with Sterling.
Sterling chose Del Negro over Dwane Casey, he elected to retain Del Negro after the tumultuous month in March 2012, he decided to retain Del Negro’s team option after the 2011-12 season. It’s exceedingly apparent that while Sterling appreciates and values the input of his staff and players, final say lies with him.
As successful as the 2012-13 season was, the Clippers ultimately regressed in the playoffs. Maybe Sterling’s attendance of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals made him realize that coaching was the issue. Maybe he was there to personally scout the coach that ousted his team. Either way, it’s apparent that the decision was always with Sterling.