“Sir, the question was, is this your handwriting?”
By this point, you should know that Clippers owner Donald Sterling is incapable of showing any tact or restraint when speaking publicly. Locker room, courtside, court of law — it does not matter. Sterling’s foot is a heat seeking device that always finds a way to wedge itself between those loose lips of his. We know this.
Somehow though, it’s still a surprise to watch a man with so much power be completely oblivious to the weight his words carry.
Vinny Del Negro was already gone. Showing remorse about a difficult decision was okay. Expected, even. Not taking responsibility for the decision? Less than okay.
“The coach is a wonderful man, and I’m sad about the whole thing,” Sterling said.
“Was this done,” I asked, “just to hang on to Chris Paul?”
“I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true,” Sterling said. “So I’d rather not say anything.”
“So I wonder, is this decision being made because the players are now calling the shots? Am I off base?”
“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.”
This of course led to Vinny Del Negro wisely pouncing on the opening and doing very little to dispel the notion that Paul got him fired. Del Negro, thanks to Sterling, found a way to be painted as the victim of a coach killing crime. Forget the ineptitude, the epic playoff failure and all of Del Negro’s widely acknowledged warts and grab your pitchforks, crusty old men!
Oh, did they ever. They panned Paul, they blamed the NBA for allowing this great injustice to happen, they spewed out blatantly racist comments at alarming speeds. Damn those players! They should be perfectly subservient to their bosses — they’re the real reason we watch! Using leverage to try and make your work environment better? The nerve of these people!
It’s easy to ignore all that (I highly recommend it), but here’s the craziest part about it. Imagine for a second that you’re Chris Paul. Imagine you really didn’t have anything to do with the Del Negro decision, and in one fell swoop Donald Sterling puts the blame on you anyway. You’re completely innocent, and no one believes you. And then, AND THEN, Sterling says it’s unfortunate he has to make you happy to win, as if it robs of him some great joy that you’re not miserable while you’re picking pockets and scoring buckets.
This would make you angry, yes?
How much of an impact this will have on Paul’s decision to re-sign with the Clippers as a free agent is not clear, but the source conceded that Paul’s anger could lead him to look elsewhere.
“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.”
It’s ironic. The Clippers initially gained public favor by firing Del Negro, eliminating one of the advantages other teams had in recruiting Paul. If Paul really did want a new coach, he could now have one in Los Angeles. Take away Sterling’s comment, and what happens if Paul leaves? He catches heat — not the Clippers.
But now? Donald Sterling opened his mouth, and he gave Paul an out, and maybe, a shove out the door. An organization that does not publicly protect their most important asset deserves what’s coming to them. If Paul left it’s no longer his PR nightmare — it’s the Clippers being the Clippers, and that’s all the justification CP3 needs.
And of course, Donald Sterling can’t save face with an apology or correct himself because he’s Donald Sterling. But maybe, just maybe, Sterling can lure Paul back in with one single move. All he would have to do?
Hire Byron Scott.
It’s politics. Scott and Paul have had a tight relationship for years, with Paul even saying that Scott was like family to him a few years back. From what we’ve learned from Paul over the last two years, he doesn’t lose respect or appreciation for players or coaches he loved early in his career. He’s a bit nostalgic, which I (and Chauncey Billups) can certainly appreciate.
Even if that’s all hack-job psychology and the relationship is actually overblown publicly, you would still assume that hiring Scott would make it harder for Paul to leave, if for nothing else than the PR perspective. Hiring Scott would do quite a bit to restore the narrative that the Clippers did “all they could” to keep Paul, despite Sterling’s damaging comments.
Let’s not forget that there are benefits for Sterling here, too. Scott’s salary will be offset, just like Del Negro’s was. Scott’s clubhouse charm can woo Sterling, just like Del Negro’s did. And hiring not only a former player, but a Lakers legend, to be your next coach? Now there’s a feather in the cap. The local media will love it. Scott’s two NBA Finals appearances will provide all the justification necessary. How many other guys have that? Count the (almost) rings, right?
All that added up makes Scott the heavy favorite to win the job, in my mind. What requirements of Sterling’s would Scott not meet?
And on top of the savings, both of the face and cash variety, Sterling already has a built-in excuse if Scott fails. That damn Chris Paul made me hire Scott, Sterling can say. And then Donald Sterling will have his turn as the victim, salt of the earth Donald Sterling, that refreshing owner who speaks his mind but is just powerless to stop these players from making decisions he should get to make.
This offseason is all about keeping Paul, and due to a series of choices, Sterling has somehow become the pitchman, and the pitch is this:
Stay in Los Angeles, where we deplore your power, leverage, and happiness all while making you publicly accountable for every decision, even the ones you don’t make.