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Future Could Be So Bright, and Profitable, for Clippers

Donald T. Sterling

Sterling World Plaza

Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dear Donald,

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Before we go away for the season, I just wanted to wish you a good summer.

How about posing with your guys for a last picture? Let’s face it, we’re not sure how many of them you’ll be bringing back. That’s right, get in tight around him. Michael, can you stand over to the side for a moment?

I know how disappointing this season was to you, Donald, but before you bust up that old gang of yours, I have good news for you:

This doesn’t have to be over!

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Remember the guys who were here in 2000-01 and 2001-02 who were so exciting, who were moving up so fast, whom everyone loved so much, who made you all that money?

They’re all still here!

Actually, Darius Miles is gone but the rest -- Elton Brand, Michael Olowokandi, Lamar Odom, Corey Maggette, Quentin Richardson -- not only remain, they all want to stay, even after last season, when they found out where those old Clipper jokes came from.

I’ve told you for years how special this group was, but this is faith in a Clipper future that goes beyond loyalty, not to mention reason.

Take Brand. His agent, David Falk, has been trying to pry him out of here since the Bulls traded him to you and Falk asked if Brand wanted him to hold the deal up, like, forever.

Whatever else Falk is, he’s not slow on the uptake, and he already knew where Clipper jokes came from. However, Brand is different from Falk’s other clients, who called the moving van whenever he told them it was time to go. Brand liked the idea of being here and starting something.

Amazingly, he still does. Brand is so positive, he even has himself fooled. You put up $10 million a year this summer and he may stay, no matter what else happens. Unfortunately, I have some bad news: That won’t be enough.

There’s one more indispensable guy, and it’s the one you’re really upset with, Olowokandi.

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There are only two better free-agent big men -- Tim Duncan and Jermaine O’Neal -- and they aren’t going anywhere.

With Olowokandi, Brand and Odom, you have a huge, athletic front line. (I know I’m going fast for you, but you can ask Elgin Baylor, this is a good thing.)

Otherwise, since it’ll take a season or two to develop Chris Kaman, your center is Melvin Ely, who’s only 6-9, which is short here in the land of Shaquille O’Neal, which exposes Brand, who’s a small power forward at 6-8. (Again, check with Elgin, not so good.)

Now, I understand Olowokandi’s season was a disaster. On the other hand, whose around here wasn’t?

He came in ready, got demoralized when things went bad -- as did everyone else -- left to get a knee ‘scoped and stayed away while rehabbing, upsetting everyone.

Of course, why did anyone expect him to remain part of things when everyone, but everyone, had made it abundantly clear to him he had no future here?

Then, when he came back, hoping to play the last month, if only to show potential bidders he was OK, you wouldn’t let him near the floor. Of course, this reflected more on him since one more complaint about you is like lightly salting the ocean.

Now, his price has necessarily dropped from the $9 million-$10 million a year he would have commanded to $5 million, because no one will offer more.

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Moreover, he wants to stay. He likes it here. He forgave that fine-suspension farce two seasons ago, was eager to sign last summer and, even after being blamed for all that went wrong since, says he’d love to return.

So, let me give you one more bit of advice:

Sign him.

There are no guarantees, but there are five things I nevertheless promise you:

1. If you ask your basketball people if you should re-sign Olowokandi, they’ll say yes, to a man.

2. If you sign the others, as you have insisted you will, bring Olowokandi back and hire Mike Dunleavy, you’ll go back to being competitive and exciting and the town will fall back in love with you

3. Your core group will be so solid, you won’t have to consider another big-money commitment -- anything more than a $5-million salary -- for five years.

4. It pencils out. With Brand at $10 million a year, Olowokandi at $6 million, Odom at $7 million, Maggette at $5 million, Andre Miller gone (he probably won’t stay if you try to keep him), your payroll will be $43 million. You’ll net at least $10 million next season, plus $8 million in rebates for staying under the luxury-tax threshold and $10 million in expansion fees from Charlotte.

That’s $28 million ... which should boost your profits for the last four seasons over $50 million.

5. If you don’t, you and your woebegone franchise are going back under that rock whence you came.

Of course, I know you prefer to do things on your own terms, or not at all, but I thought after all these t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e years, we might be over that.

If not, send me a postcard from the south of France, anyway.

As ever,

Mark

P.S. This is just NBA stuff, which I know you don’t care about but some of our other readers do.

It looks all over but the recriminations in New Jersey, after Jason Kidd said he’d visit San Antonio, while dropping the Nets to one of four possibilities, with the Spurs, Mavericks (yeah, right) and Nuggets (give me a break.)

Meanwhile, the New York Post’s Fred Kerber reported that Kidd blasted Coach Byron Scott to Nets’ brass, complaining that his 4-year-old son, T.J., could have done a better job.

Kerber also reported a “strained” relationship between Scott and assistant Eddie Jordan, who then left to take the Wizards’ job.

Insiders say Kidd is much closer to Jordan than to Scott, and some wonder how loyal Jordan ever was.

Now that the cat has climbed back out of the bag: The Kobe Bryant-to-opt-out story, reported as breaking news, has been repeatedly noted in the local press.

However, because of Bryant’s sensitivity -- he mistakenly thinks he can check out his options without it becoming a story -- it has been reported in a downbeat fashion, in short stories on inside pages.

Bottom line: There will be a controversy, Kobe won’t like it, he will opt out since he’s as tenacious in business as basketball, but he isn’t likely to leave. Four years ago, he dreamed of being Michael Jordan’s franchise player in Washington, but three titles and this season’s failure have taught Bryant the ring’s the thing.

Adulthood, it’s hell: Bryant has also become sensitive about his standing in the sneaker world, but that’s just a function of who’s youngest -- Bryant was but LeBron James is now -- or has the most “street cred,” or outlaw chic, as illustrated in such harrowing style by Allen Iverson.

Shaq once had to deal with the Child Kobe, a bench player, as a big seller for Adidas while O’Neal, the actual superstar, seemed hopelessly middle-aged to teens and didn’t move many units for Reebok. Now Kobe is about to turn 25 and has to deal with it.

With no pick before No. 17, Phoenix got two talented prospects, 6-10 Serbian small forward Zarko Cabarkapa and Brazilian point Leandrinho Barbosa, although both are projects. Jerry and Bryan Colangelo have made a mistake or two -- try Kidd for Stephon Marbury -- but they know what so many have forgotten: The draft is not about next season but a future that’s further away and lasts longer than that.

And soon there will be none: Michael Jordan is reportedly so close to buying the Bucks, he told them to draft T.J. Ford and give away Sam Cassell to Minnesota. Two years after they went to Game 7 of the East finals, the Big Three of Cassell, Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen are gone. GM Ernie Grunfeld is headed to Washington and Coach George Karl will be fired before Jordan takes over.

At 6-9 1/2 in bare feet and a bulked-up 234, Brian Cook is a better prospect than the Lakers got in last spring’s ballyhooed trade for Kareem Rush, who was thought to have something missing in his temperament and is still looking for it. Cook’s problem is his natural deference.

Then there’s Luke Walton, who has to slim down and improve his marginal shooting. If he does, with his playmaking ability, cover-boy looks and lineage, he’ll be a local sun god.


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