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BILL PLASCHKE

Losing Mike Dunleavy feels like addition by subtraction for Clippers

Severing ties with the general manager, who gave up his coaching duties last month, opens up a world of possibilities for the star-crossed franchise, almost all of them good.

March 09, 2010|Bill Plaschke

After 26 years and two winning seasons and one playoff series victory and zero championship credibility, it's finally, wonderfully happened.

The Clippers have run out of things to blame.

The final sawing of the limb upon which Mike Dunleavy has been sitting for the last month — the fallen coach is now the felled general manager — has cleared the last of the thick and messy brush.

If Clippers fans look up today, they can see the limit to this team's possibilities.

It's called, rather improbably, the sky.

Of course, as long as Donald Sterling is still the owner, that sky could still be falling. But for the first time in a long time, it is clear enough to see, close enough to touch, and real enough to promise.

"The Clippers want to win now," read the team's statement Tuesday that announced Dunleavy's dumping as general manager. "This transition, in full conjunction with a full commitment to dedicate unlimited resources, is designed to accomplish that objective."

In the past, many have jokingly accused the Clippers of false advertising. But with that statement now officially in ink, those accusations would become indictments.

The Clippers aren't dumb enough to say it and not mean it, are they? Who knows? But for certain, while they will stumble to the end of this season with an interim coach and injured No. 1 draft pick, Tuesday's move means they will stroll into summer with no reason they can't finally fix it.

They can't blame money — they have tons of space under the salary cap and plenty of dough to fill it.

They can't blame facilities — they finally have a first-class practice home to go with their world-class game gym.

They can't blame bling — they will have a solid returning core including Chris Kaman, Baron Davis, Eric Gordon and a rehabbed Blake Griffin.

And now, they can't even blame Dunleavy, who was consistently ripped as a coach and basically disregarded in his brief time as a full-time general manager.

While the timing of the move was odd — this feels like a trademark Sterling whim — the message was clear.

Control of the Clippers is now there for the taking. An organization with the most underutilized potential in all of sports is now open for shaping.

The office is empty for the strongest of general managers. The bench is available for the best of head coaches. The building is even unlocked for someone who can do both.

Now introducing Clippers general manager, coach and forward LeBron James.

Crazy, sure, but you have to wonder whether the Clippers didn't suddenly ax Dunleavy because they received word that there's somebody out there who could deliver them potential free-agent James.

Now introducing, Clippers forward LeBron James and two of his high school chums as general manager and coach.

Crazy, too, but that's the thing about what happened Tuesday. The Clippers didn't lose a general manager, they gained a world of possibilities.

Like Jerry West. Well, it could be dicey, considering the Clippers' history with West's former teammate Elgin Baylor, but you never know.

Or, like, Rick Pitino. Maybe the University of Louisville coach hasn't done enough at the pro level to warrant control of an organization, but he would be the perfect fit for a job that requires entertainment for the fans and tweaking of the Lakers.

How about Larry Brown? He's under contract in Charlotte, and he's thrilled that Michael Jordan just bought the team, but the guy is always looking for new challenges, and word is that the Clippers would love to have him back.

You get my drift. The subtraction of Dunleavy means the Clippers could add just about anybody.

Maybe Jeff Van Gundy would come to a place where he would have some control. Maybe Byron Scott could patch things up with Baron Davis and come home. Heck, just offer the whole shebang to Mike Krzyzewski.

Think Kobe Bryant would have second thoughts about where to end his career?

"With all due respect to Mike [Dunleavy], we arrived at the realization that we weren't going to be able to move forward together in the long term," Clippers President Andy Roeser said in an e-mailed statement. "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 something even more interesting in referring to the guy who will run the Clippers front office for the time being, current assistant general manager Neil Olshey.

"Neil is well-prepared to meet the mandate to lead us to a ‘win now' mentality,'' he said.

Hear that? Win now?

He said it. The Clippers can do it. In 26 years here, they've never had a better opportunity. No excuses.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter.com/billplaschke

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