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Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

Clipper Progress Comes Slowly

April 14, 2002|Mark Heisler

Donald T. Sterling

Sterling World Plaza

Beverly Hills, CA

Dear Donald,

I'm thinking now might be a good time to work on our people skills, while we still have some people left to try them on....

Let's take your recent run-in with Michael Olowokandi, whom your guys (not you, they insist) just fined $50,000 for leveling the shocking allegation that contract worries were affecting Clipper players.

This wasn't the conventional way to open negotiations with a player who may be able to get $75 million on the market in 2003 ... which you, of course, will soon try to persuade him to forgo to sign long-term here.

Your guys say the one had nothing to do with the other, suggesting that after years of working for you, they inhabit the same parallel universe you do.

As sharp as you are when you're dealing with land and buildings, I know you have problems with basketball and people, so let's put it in more familiar terms. Let's say I own a building at Wilshire and Rodeo you want. However, before making an offer, you sue me for $50,000, alleging I cheated you in an earlier deal.

Two months later you ask about my building. The first thing I say is: "Don, we've got to talk about that 50K you're suing me for. I'm adding it to the price of my building, multiplied by a factor of, let's say 100. So the price for anyone else is $100 million ... but for you we'll call it $105 million.

"And, by the way, go sit on your hat."

Of course, you thought you had a grievance, but suing me called only more attention to it. Instead, you should have asked yourself, "What do I care about, his manners or his building?"

It's hard to believe Elgin Baylor levied and rescinded this fine on his own. He's not the off-with-their-heads type and he dotes on Olowokandi, having stuck his neck out to draft him and taken heat for it for three years.

The truth is, the situation isn't just flipping out your players, but the little house of dysfunction you call a front office, too.

Clipper officials, to a man living for the day Olowokandi signs, recoil in horror--How will we get Donald to pay him $75 million if he keeps saying these things?--when he speaks out on taboo subjects (in Clipperdom, nothing is further off-limits than Clipper history) as he'd begun doing regularly.

It was, indeed, self-serving to complain about the organization after he made only two of 15 shots in that loss to the Jazz. On the other hand, truth is a defense and he was right.

It's not just Clipper history that leads your players to wonder about their futures. You don't do any of the things other teams do as a matter of course to reassure players.

How about telling the media: "We love this team and when the time comes, we intend to keep our players."

I forgot, you'd have to talk to the media, first.

Baylor could say it, but he isn't what you'd call unflinching with the media himself. His only comments on fining and lifting the fine have come in prepared releases.

Happily, or luckily, for you, Olowokandi still seems to want to stay. Rescinding the fine was good, although next time, my advice would be to skip the entire process, punishment, indignation, forgiveness and reconciliation. If he goes off again between now and July 1, try this: Kandi Man! We know you had a long day but (wink, wink) we still love you. How about a hug and a statue of you in front of the arena in the meantime?

It isn't good that he thought your silence meant, as he noted, "I was out of here." You've had four years to explain the rules barring negotiations before July 1; I'd have thought it would have come up by now.

Friday, ending a nine-day media blackout on the part of management, Vice President Andy Roeser announced you intend to keep your players, listing Olowokandi as one of the "top priorities."

Talk about progress.

You have no more faithful retainer than Roeser, who isn't beloved throughout the organization for it. But I remember Roeser trying to turn the Danny Manning thing around as the sand ran out of the hourglass in 1993, offering $25 million--without authorization--when that was big money for the league and off the charts for you, while you were in the south of France or somewhere.

This is a new day. No one else has as much size, talent, and youth, and a payroll so low, you may be able to add another star. Now you have excitement, profits ... and expectations.

Signing Olowokandi, who was also outspoken enough to say he would take less to stay, is a no-brainer, as is not giving him a reason to leave.

So, if anyone thought this season was exciting, wait 'til summer, or '03, when you have to make a decision on Lamar Odom, and '04, when Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson are up for extensions.

Of course, if you have any questions--other than the usual "What's he talking about?"--feel free to call.

As ever,

Mark Heisler

*

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