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Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

A power forward no longer

After all this time, Baylor deserved a better send-off

October 08, 2008|Mark Heisler

Donald T. Sterling

Sterling World Plaza

Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dear Donald,

I hate to be the one to tell you this but Elgin Baylor just hung them up.

Come on, you must remember. Tall, distinguished-looking former NBA great? Headed up your Clippers' front office the last 22 years?

I knew you'd remember!

Oh, you knew about this?

Actually, it turns out that you hung up Elgin's shoes with Elgin still in them, officially handing his duties to Coach Mike Dunleavy.

Actually, Dunleavy has run the basketball operation for four seasons, if you count the last one when you put Mike on ice and no one ran it.

Elgin is 74 so it was your prerogative to pension him off.

On the other hand, it would have been nicer if it hadn't ended bitterly so you could hold a night for him instead of seeing him allege a "dispute" and refer people to his legal team.

Elgin had just dropped out of sight this preseason until Tuesday's announcement . . . in an eight-paragraph press release . . . titled, "Clippers Add GM Role to Coach Mike Dunleavy's Duties."

Almost in passing, it noted Dunleavy was replacing Baylor, followed by this effusive quote from you:

"We greatly appreciate Elgin's efforts during his time with the Clippers and we wish him the very best."

That's it?

That was 18 words -- not even one word for each of the 22 seasons Elgin worked for you.

I understand you're put out at Elgin. You usually sue former employees, not the other way around, and I can see where this is less fun.

Relative to other GMs with as much tenure as he had, Elgin always made bubkus -- reportedly $400,000 -- so what would it have hurt to pay him another $400K for taking all those bullets for you all those years?

Elgin's problem was always two-fold: a) You rarely did anything he wanted to do, and b) he wanted the job too badly to ever put it on the line.

Still, Elgin put together the Elton Brand-Corey Maggette nucleus Dunleavy inherited in 2003, which they built into the team that made the second round of the playoffs in 2006.

In a major irony lost on the people who voted for the award, Elgin was executive of the year that season when he was no longer running things.

At your direction, Dunleavy had taken over. Of course, it would have been nice if you had told Elgin what you had told Mike.

Instead, you told Elgin nothing had changed, leaving him to think Mike had staged a bloodless coup by winning over your guy, team President Andy Roeser.

Mike still wanted Elgin in the loop and if Elgin didn't like the situation, he trusted Mike enough to consult his agent, Warren LeGarie, two years ago.

The understanding then was Elgin would get two more seasons. Unfortunately, Elgin didn't understand it.

Did you ever notice these things never happen to the Lakers?

The words Laker Family mean something with an organization studded with former players and Jerry Buss giving Magic Johnson and Pat Riley multi-million dollar severance packages after they left and were of no more use to him.

You don't hear people talk about Clipper Family. If someone did, I'd think of a family like that of the Emperor Commodus in "Gladiator."

This didn't have to happen at the same time you opened a sparkling $50-million practice site that could have symbolized a rebirth but as this debacle shows, your organization still needs some work, like from the top down.

Vikings went out like Vikings, pushed into fjords in ships to be set ablaze in a hail of burning arrows.

Clippers still go out like Clippers, feet first.

I'm still here for you to explain the parts you don't understand, starting with "Dear Donald."

Your biggest (only?) fan,

Mark Heisler




Elgin Baylor in the NBA

* NBA: Elgin Baylor was a fixture on the L.A. basketball scene for nearly a half-century.

* LAKERS: He was the Lakers superstar when the team moved to L.A. in 1960. His moves were so flashy that older fans say Dr. J, Jordan and Kobe were simply Baylor copycats. He scored 71 points in a regular-season game in 1960, then an NBA record. He still holds the record for an NBA Finals game with 61 points against Boston in 1962. A Hall of Fame forward with the Lakers for 14 seasons, he averaged 27.4 points a game and was an 11-time All-Star. He retired during the 1971-72 season.

* CLIPPERS JOB: Baylor joined the Clippers as vice president of basketball operations in 1986. In his 22 seasons the Clippers had 19 losing seasons, 13 coaches, and made the playoffs only four times.

* TOP DRAFT PICKS: So the Clippers were fixtures in the lottery. Baylor's best picks: Danny Manning, Lamar Odom, Chris Kaman. Worst: Yaroslav Korolev, Randy Woods, LeRon Ellis.

* BEST TRADE: Baylor acquired Elton Brand from Chicago in 2001. With Brand, the Clippers made it to the second round of the 2006 playoffs; that season Baylor was named NBA executive of the year by The Sporting News.

-- Barry Stavro

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