Clippers fire Mike Dunleavy


Welcome to two-stage firing ... Clippers’ style.

The Clippers put a new twist on that old phrase: They thought Mike Dunleavy was so nice, they fired him twice.

Technically speaking, Dunleavy stepped down as coach last month when he seemed unable to penetrate the deep malaise of his players. On Tuesday, the other part of his job description, general manager, vanished with about five weeks left in the regular season.

Talk about the long (delayed) goodbye.

The news blindsided Dunleavy. And this is saying something, considering he has worked for his share of mercurial NBA owners, Herb Kohl in Milwaukee before joining Donald Sterling of the Clippers.

“Had no clue!” Dunleavy said in an e-mail to The Times. Dunleavy, who had dinner with Sterling last week, said he did not hear the news from the Clippers, learning of his dismissal only when he turned his cell phone on around 7 p.m., getting it out of the locker at his club.

“I’m kind of surprised like everyone else,” he said in a telephone interview. “I found out being on the Internet and people calling me, saying, ‘Mike, what’s going on?’ I said, ‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’ I tried Mr. Sterling and left him a message.

“...That’s the story.”

Unlike February’s carefully crafted, mutual-decision type wording, Dunleavy’s departure Tuesday was anything but warm and fuzzy. The Clippers, in announcing that assistant general manager Neil Olshey would take over Dunleavy’s duties, used the words “sever ties” in a release hitting in-boxes during the team’s 113-87 loss at Orlando.

Dwight Howard had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Magic, and the Clippers again were without shooting guard Eric Gordon, who missed his second straight game because of a sore right leg.

But the Dunleavy news reduced all else to a footnote on Tuesday for the Clippers. Dunleavy is owed $5.4 million next season on the final year of his contract.

The big question to analyze: Why now, and not a clean sweep in February? Team President Andy Roeser was not available to answer that specific question, but did provide insight into the decision making.

“With all due respect to Mike, we arrived at the realization that we weren’t going to be able to move forward together in the long term, and we felt that, in order to give us the most flexibility as we approach this opportunity-filled off-season, making a clean break was our best option at this time,” Roeser said in an e-mail to The Times.

“We think Neil is well prepared to meet the mandate to lead us to a ‘win-now’ mentality, and to take advantage of the many opportunities that lie ahead.”

(Subtext: Let’s get everything in order before LeBron James comes to visit this summer.)

Olshey has been with the Clippers since the 2003-04 season and was considered a Dunleavy protege.

Earlier, the Clippers’ news release about Dunleavy’s departure was blunter than usual

“The organization has determined that the goal of building a winning team is best served by making this decision at this time.

“The team has simply not made sufficient progress during Dunleavy’s seven-year tenure. The Clippers want to win now. This transition, in conjunction with a full commitment to dedicate unlimited resources, is designed to accomplish that objective.”

This would have been more understandable had, say, the statement been issued on Feb. 4, when Dunleavy stepped down as coach.

Dunleavy navigated the organization through the mid-February trade deadline with a series of moves, clearing the way to position the team to make a maximum-contract offer to a fancy free agent (James, or Dwyane Wade?)

The odd timing of Dunleavy’s departure quite possibly could be explained by one curious coincidence. But knowing the parties and the personalities involved, maybe not.

Sports Illustrated posted a column online saying that sources said former Clippers coach and current Bobcats Coach Larry Brown, concerned about developments in Charlotte, had “reached out to Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling to let him know that he is open to returning to L.A.”

That column was posted Monday afternoon.

Dunleavy was gone before dinner on Tuesday.