For a change, they can't blame him

Donald T. Sterling

Sterling World Plaza

Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Dear Donald,

Sorry to have been out of touch, but now that your team is doing so great, I had to tend to more pressing matters with the basketball, the fight. You know, all the usual stuff.

Now I'm finally clear, so how are you doing? Let's check the standings....

Wow, what happened?

I'd like to say this looks familiar and continue in that vein for 20 paragraphs, but the really bad news -- at least for me -- is that I can't pin this on you.

You're no longer running a penal colony in the guise of an NBA franchise. Your players aren't trying to tunnel under the wall.

OK, Corey Maggette is, but everyone else is good.

You just spent $52 million to lock up Chris Kaman and $13 million for Sam Cassell. You gave Mike Dunleavy a four-year, $22-million extension -- twice as much as you paid your other 12 coaches combined -- which was announced the day after your guys were hammered here by 22 by San Antonio, with your 6-2 start in the process of turning into an 11-16 reminder of the old days.

Putting up tens of millions under such a circumstance was a mind-blower for those of us who go back to the days when you'd be so despondent when you lost two in a row -- which, let's face it, was weekly -- you'd ask everyone you met for advice from Anthony A. Aardvark to Pia Zadora.

In those days, at least, you lost on the cheap. On the other hand, in those days you'd have been giddy at being this close to .500 this late in the season.

I know it's supposed to be party time for Clipper Nation (that's what your fans started calling themselves when you got some) after making the second round of the playoffs, where none of your teams had been, and taking Phoenix to a Game 7.

Of course, if you want to take a hard look at last season, you started 14-5 and went 33-30 the rest of the way as they adroitly tanked -- er, maneuvered -- to get a first-round matchup with Denver instead of Dallas. Cassell and Elton Brand were your 1-2 punch, but Sam has since turned 37 and Elton has since gotten married, gone to Japan with the U.S. team and then to Russia with you guys.

A year ago, they averaged 42 points between them. This season, they've averaged 35, when Cassell was available.

Anyone who didn't understand what Cassell meant got a crash course on the last trip. Your guys were in free fall -- they even lost to Atlanta, which had one other win in four weeks -- when he came back and gave the franchise CPR.

Yes, it might be a good idea to offer a prayer to the Big Trainer in the Sky to watch out for Sam.

Your guys have a few more issues, like not defending, not being able to make a shot longer than a free throw and waiting for Kaman and Shaun Livingston to happen.

Of course, the big one is Maggette. This didn't have much chance of working, and sure enough it didn't, becoming a major distraction for a team that's too easily distracted.

(Actually, it would have been good to re-sign Dunleavy last summer and try to resolve the Maggette situation then. On the other hand, I almost fell over backward when you signed Mike.)

Maggette is a gamer and a big-time production guy when he isn't taking three-pointers or running people over. His real problem is his desire to start and score 20 points a game.

However, after weeks of looking around, he may be figuring out there aren't a lot of starting jobs waiting for him, and if he has to come off the bench, why not here?

Or he may not. You also may have heard that you guys could have traded Livingston for Allen Iverson -- he's that little guy with all the tattoos who scores all those points -- supplying the missing "buzz factor" and rescuing the season.

Unfortunately, after the buzz died down, you still wouldn't have been an elite team, and with your best 21-year-old prospect going for a 31-year-old veteran with two years left on his contract, you would have been an old team.

Now Dunleavy's being widely second-guessed and Livingston is supposed to show he's as good as Iverson. Because Shaun is the pass-first type of point guard rather than the type who takes 30 shots, it's a no-win comparison for him.

At this point, I'm sure you could use some good news, so here it is, sort of:

This is now out of your hands.

You've placed your bets and they're still reasonable ones. You've finally let the professionals take charge, which means someone is finally accountable, besides you.

Now you just have to sit tight, let events run their course and see if Dunleavy can fulfill his vision.

In the meantime, your people should stop stressing about the money you'll pay next season and the finish they think the team needs this season so they can jack up ticket prices.

You've made at least $50 million in your seven seasons in Staples, probably closer to $75 million, perhaps even enough to cover all the losses in your first 15 seasons.

You're in the NBA now. These are the good times, or, at least, better ones.

Whatever happens, of course, I'm here for you.

Mark Heisler

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°