The Times has a revealing follow-up to yesterday’s piece chronicling the bubbling conflict between ownership, management, the coaching staff, and the roster.
Let’s take a look:
With Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling having leveled complaints at his top management -- Mike Dunleavy and Elgin Baylor -- the team's players on Tuesday attempted to avoid escalating the dispute.
Corey Maggette, the Clippers' leading scorer, is at the center of the organization's top-tier rift. Maggette and Dunleavy have had their disputes, but Tuesday Maggette came to Dunleavy's defense.
"I just can't throw my coach under the bus, regardless of people saying I don't like him or we don't get along," Maggette said. "He's had a hard time with the injuries. It's always 50-50. Fifty percent [of the blame is] on us and 50% on the coach."
Corey Maggette has shown a lot of class. It isn’t easy being the whipping boy of a coach. We can debate the credibility of Dunleavy’s longstanding critiques of Maggette – and I tend to agree with most of them.
In the past, Dunleavy has questioned Maggette's defensive play.
And last summer Dunleavy tried to trade him for the Dallas Mavericks' Jason Terry over concerns that Maggette would opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season, leaving behind the final year of his contract worth $7 million.
We should’ve been so lucky. Is this the deal that Sterling and/or Baylor nixed?
But Sterling said once again Monday that he expected Maggette, and the injured Elton Brand, to remain Clippers for the rest of their careers.
This is based on what, exactly? Despite the class Corey has demonstrated publicly, I don’t sense that he’s eager to return. Moreover, re-upping Corey doesn’t make sense if the Clippers are serious about developing Thornton as their small forward of the future. And, no, Corey can’t play the shooting guard position. The experiment has failed, except on those rare occasions when opponents go big at the 2.
"OK, well, I guess I'm going to be a Clipper," Maggette said, matter-of-factly. "That's how I look at it. If they want me to be here, then I'll be here. It's as simple as that."
This is the standard free agent trope: If the organization wants me [translation: If the organization meets my salary demands], then I’ll stay. Having said that, I don’t have a problem with Corey’s posture here.
Most Clippers acknowledge that they knew it would be a long season after Brand, their best player, ruptured his Achilles' tendon in August. And while none were willing to publicly voice discontent over Dunleavy or management, there have been quiet grumblings during the season, including some concerns about the team's long-term chemistry.
“A three-game winning streak solves any chemistry problems” – Paul DePodesta
Other complaints involve playing time, that the offense is too dependent on center Chris Kaman and that creativity is limited because of Dunleavy's set plays. The unhappiness isn't much different than most NBA teams experience during a season, but it's become magnified as the team's record has dropped to 12-25.
This is a much larger conversation. I never expected the Clips to win more than 25-30 games this season. So far as the dependency on Chris Kaman:
I realize facts are inconvenient, but the notion that Kaman is disproportionately central to the offense is empirically incorrect.
On the issue of creativity, I don’t disagree with the general criticism of Dunleavy and have expressed this opinion before. But there are prerequisites to creativity, namely the passing ability of your wing players. And Sam Cassell, for all of his attributes, isn’t a superlative passer either.
Indeed, a complex relationship exists between Dunleavy and several of his core players.
After the team's playoff run in 2006, Dunleavy enjoyed considerable input over player personnel, a rarity for a coach without a general manager title. He lobbied for Sam Cassell and Kaman to receive contract extensions and Dunleavy received a four-year, $22-million contract.
Would this team be better this season without Cassell and his modest extension, or Kaman and his admittedly hefty contract [though I’d argue that, when you look around the league, Kaman’s deal is relatively in-line with his value]?
But when some possible trades didn't go through last summer, the writing for a poor season "was on the wall," Dunleavy said.
I can’t find a credible argument that this team should win more than 35 games in the Western Conference this season. But if you have one, by all means, offer it up.
Despite Sterling's criticism, several players said Dunleavy prepares his team for games as well as any coach.
Cassell is one of those players, but the point guard added there was a difference between planning and coaching when the game actually started. Cassell, 38, has been fighting injuries, and he voiced his displeasure earlier in the season when Dunleavy did not play him in the fourth quarter of some games.
Cassell said Tuesday that Sterling now seems emotionally tied to the Clippers' success and failures.
"He had the right to say whatever he wanted to say because he is the CEO of the whole operation," said Cassell. "When you are the boss, you say whatever you want to say. You are going to hurt whoever's feelings you are going to hurt, but that's his right."
And that’s a good thing. So long as Sterling keeps the legal tender flowing, I encourage him to invest an emotional stake in the team. Responsive ownership is an asset, so long as it’s rational.
One of the few bright spots this season for the Clippers has been Kaman's improved play. But the center said that the whole team is discouraged.
"Mike is really frustrated," Kaman said. "He is still trying to be positive and do what he can do, but when the owner pays all that money to players and wants them to perform and they don't, then he doesn't get his money's worth, supposedly.
"I think the owner needs to look at both sides of the coin. On one side, the team we had two years ago is the team we have now [if everyone is healthy]. When we had the guys on the floor, we did some great things, so give it a chance a little bit."
Said guard Cuttino Mobley: "I do get frustrated, not only with myself, my teammates, my coach. . . . That's life. But you have to stick with it and what you have and that's all we have is each other. This situation is messed up, but you've got to deal with it until there's a change."
Meanwhile, Brand, 28, is probably the key to the Clippers' future.
He hopes to play by early March.
He can also opt out of the final year of his contract after this season, even though he's due more than $16 million next season. Brand has made no commitment to next year's team.
I can’t imagine he’d exercise the opt-out coming off a devastating injury. But I’ve seen stranger decisions. See Gonzalez, Juan.
"Regarding Mr. Sterling's feelings about the team, of course, I want to play for an owner that wants this team to win," Brand said.
"In [Dunleavy's] system, I had one of my best seasons ever and a great playoff run. I feel he's a good coach. I totally understand Mr. Sterling's frustrations, but I know if I was healthy, things would be different for sure. Hopefully, this [dispute] will spark us to win us some ballgames."