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Inside the NBA | Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

Sterling Has Earning Experience

March 21, 2004|Mark Heisler

Donald T. Sterling

Sterling World Plaza

Beverly Hills, Calif.

*

Dear Donald,

I'm sorry to have been out of touch, but we have an ongoing situation with the young and restless down the hall from you at Staples Center, otherwise known as the Lakers.

Whoever thought you'd be the last bastion of sanity in a crazy world?

Of course, I know your season hasn't gone exactly the way you were hoping, but I think it's best to concentrate on the positive aspects, while the last few remain.

First, I want to offer my congratulations because you've made a lot of money this season.

Your attendance is off for the second season in a row from your 2001-02 zenith of 18,053, but that 13% drop still leaves you hanging in there at 15,778 a game, which makes the last three seasons Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in franchise history.

With your $39.7-million payroll, third-lowest in the league, this suggests a profit of -- let's be conservative, assuming lavish spending and perhaps just a smidgen of over-reporting on the attendance side -- $10 million.

Couple that with your share of Charlotte's expansion buy-in, $10 million, and your share of luxury tax and escrow money, most of which will be contributed by the New York Knicks and Portland Trail Blazers with their monster payrolls ($94 million and $87 million, respectively), which will be another $5 million-$10 million.

In other words, you're looking at a $25-million season, which should run you up around $50 million over the last three, you financial wizard, you.

At this point, I'd like to note that whereas I have always tendered my advice free of charge, I have expenses like anyone else.

Of course, you've never actually followed any of my advice, so if you prefer to leave our arrangement as is, I'll have to settle for the two columns a year I get out of it.

OK, back to your problems....

I know you just want to win -- you've told me that often enough -- so the recent swoon must be disappointing. Nevertheless, there were sins of the past that had to be worked off, the ones that added up to all those guys leaving, even if you did reel a couple of them back in, courtesy of your right of first refusal.

That still left you with a nice core of tough, hard-working young players in Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Quentin Richardson, but they were mismatched parts too.

Richardson and Maggette aren't playmakers but play positions where that comes in handy. Rookie Chris Kaman isn't ready, Chris Wilcox is just emerging and point guard Marko Jaric is better suited to a combo role.

The result is an exciting team with an average age of 25 that outrebounds opponents by 2.5 a game but doesn't handle the ball well enough, takes too many outside shots and gives up way too many layups.

Your schedule was easy early, but that was when Brand was hurt. It got hard later when you had to go on the road for 17 of 25 and went 7-18.

Nor was help solicited in a serious way. The No. 1 priority was saving cap space, about $10 million, which can be expanded by $1.7 million by giving Melvin Ely away, in case you-know-who says he wants to come. No players with contracts beyond this season were even considered.

If you don't think starting 11-13 and finishing 16-28 isn't hard all around, check out Brand, Mr. Positive, himself, who has accumulated a career-high six technical fouls.

Because you are, after all, you, people are skeptical that you'll put out big bucks, but I know you've been dying to sign a real star all these years. Of course, 1) it had to be a real big star, and 2) he had to be willing to come.

Of course, that eliminated roughly 101% of the candidates.

So, if you-know-who is really up for this, you'll spring on him like a tiger that has been caged for 20 years, which is how long you've been the owner. It might seem shorter but you could look it up, or better yet, ask your fans.

Besides, while you may not be a natural, even you can tell the difference between this and the 2001-02 season, which ended with a three-month string of sellouts and Lamar Odom and Darius Miles up on the press table, leading cheers before a crowd that didn't want to go home.

This time you'll not only have to be committed but decisive. Your personal mandate has to come in spring, not summer. Whether you-know-who signs or not, you still have moves you can make while what's left of the spirit of '01-02 remains.

In any event, I'll be here to answer your questions and address your concerns, starting with the usual, "I don't understand what you're talking about."

As always,

Mark W. Heisler

Heisler World Plaza

Northridge, Calif.

P.S. Don't worry about the rest of this, it's just league stuff I'm throwing in for your fans....

The 76ers' Allen Iverson refused interim Coach Chris Ford's suggestion that he come off the bench after an eight-day absence, declaring:

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