Never trust the Los Angeles Clippers.
Fortunes have appeared to turn over the last couple years, but one aspect of the organization remains the same—owner Donald Sterling.
There's no fixing Sterling; no hoping that he changes. He's always ruled the Clippers with an iron fist, sealed checkbook and a preference for the inane.
Chris Paul's arrival in 2011 spurred talk of a changed man, a different culture. Winning was now a priority and Sterling was willing to pay to make it happen. And for awhile, it certainly seemed that way.
Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Paul have all been handsomely rewarded for their services since 2011. The Clippers even invested significant money in role players like Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler. Padding Doc Rivers' bank account with $21 million over the next three years was further evidence of an organizational epiphany.
Then, like he always does, Sterling showed his true colors. According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, he attempted to halt Los Angeles' acquisition of J.J. Redick this past summer.
Why? We don't really know. Woj notes that the owner was fond of Eric Bledsoe and that he perhaps didn't want to pay $27 million for a role player like Redick.
What we know for sure is that the deal was all but done. Details had been ironed out, contracts negotiated and agreements reached. Once the league's moratorium period lifted, it was going to happen.
But it almost didn't, because Sterling decided to put his paws on the damn thing. If he had his way, the deal would have never been pushed through, the repercussions of which could have been catastrophic.
Or rather, befitting a team controlled by one of the worst owners ever.
Irrational Decisions, Part I
The latest edition of "Donald Sterling Does His Best Donald Sterling Impression" is especially troubling.
Last season, we saw the best Clippers team ever. Period. They won their first Pacific Division title and a franchise-record 56 games. Then, over the offseason, they got even better.
Paul's return became a formality after the Clippers acquired Rivers, a raspy-voiced winner known for extracting every ounce of defensive potential from his players. Soon after would come Redick and Jared Dudley, two players who would deepen Los Angeles' bench and help space the floor. Though they came at the expense of Bledsoe, pulling the trigger on the trade was a no-brainer.
This is where the Clippers' honeymoon takes a turn for the worst, per Woj:
With Sterling, rational thought and debate aren't always part of the discussion. Whatever his reasons, everyone else awaited Rivers' conversations with Sterling. Rivers contract gave him ultimate management authority on deals, and several sources dealing with the Clippers say that Rivers was beyond embarrassed and humiliated. He feared the unraveling of the deal would cost him his credibility and paralyze him in future trade and negotiation talks, sources said.
Rivers' job was to convince the owner – for a second time, in this instance – and there were those who believed a flat refusal on Sterling's behalf could've resulted with Rivers' resignation.
Rivers never issued that threat, convincing Sterling to give the deal his blessing. But what if it had gotten that far?
Remember, this was all before the moratorium period ended and free agency officially began. As Woj notes, Paul's return was largely predicated on Rivers' arrival. Had he resigned, everything the Clippers spent two seasons building could have unraveled.
Paul could have left, backing out of his agreement like Sterling tried to here. That could have happened, at which point the Clippers would have been without a coach and down one star point guard. Can't imagine that would have sat well with Blake Griffin, or the rest of the team.
Coming off their best season ever, there was no reason for Sterling to jeopardize everything. And I mean everything. That Redick deal falls through and maybe Rivers flees the scene. Maybe Paul follows suit.
Maybe the Clippers find themselves back where they started—lamenting the existence of an autocratic owner who drove the team out of playoff contention.
Irrational Decisions, Part II
I wish I could say Sterling's latest blunder was an aberration. But I can't.
Horrible decisions are Sterling's M.O., both on and off the basketball court. The Clippers haven't made the playoffs just six times since Sterling bought them in 1981 out of chance. Incompetent ownership has sparked losing seasons and created an atmosphere that, until recently, was unbearable.
Sources told Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears in 2010 that Sterling could often be heard heckling Baron Davis, the Clippers point guard at the time, from his courtside seat.
“Why are you in the game?”
“Why did you take that shot?”
"You’re out of shape!”
That's merely a taste of what Sterling would yell. Owners are supposed to support to their players, their team. If they don't like the direction the franchise is heading in or a player on the roster, do something about it. Quietly.
Subtleness and silence have never been Sterling's bag of chips, though. More recently, when the Clippers parted ways with Vinny Del Negro, he publicly implied the dismissal was on Paul.
T.J. Simers, then of the Los Angeles Times, asked Sterling if Del Negro was shown the door in order to keep Paul, to which Sterling replied in typical fashion.
"I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true," he said. "So I'd rather not say anything.
Real professional there, Donald. Throw the player you're trying to keep, throw the man who has revived your franchise under the bus. Nice job.
True or not, Sterling should have kept his mouth shut. He let it happen, so clearly he was intent on keeping Paul. If he was so opposed to the move, the time to comment on it or put a stop to it was before the fact, not after it.
ESPN's Chris Broussard later reported that Paul was upset with the way Sterling handled the situation, and I can't blame him. This was a team he was prepared to spend the next four or five years with. Behavior like Sterling's wasn't exactly encouraging.
The madness doesn't end there. Rather, it dates back even further.
Elgin Baylor, a former Clippers general manager, went to battle against Sterling over wrongful termination. Filings obtained by ESPN included a recount by Baylor of what I will only say was disgusting locker-room demeanor exuded by Sterling.
Other unacceptable, red-flag moves by Sterling include him trying to cut costs during his first season by asking then-head coach Paul Silas to tape up players before games, just so he didn't have to pay for a trainer, and refusing to sign players when injuries dwindled the roster down to eight in 1983.
Sadly, the list goes on. Sterling has always been concerned about profit over product and humanity, as former coach and acting general manager Mike Dunleavy once said, per ESPN's J.A. Adande.
Chris Kaman, who spent eight years with the Clippers, recently echoed those sentiments.
“Before, the owner, Donald Sterling, didn’t care about winning,” Kaman said, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. “He cared about sharing that luxury money. I think it was all about save as much money as I can, get as much highlight players and still people will come watch. That’s what he did for a long time.”
On the surface, things appear to have changed. Really, they haven't. The Clippers are better, but Sterling is still Sterling, unable to get out of his own way.
Sterling's Will Be Done
You can't trust Sterling. You just can't.
Just when you think things in Los Angeles have changed, when you start to believe not even Sterling can destroy what the Clippers have built, the Redick fiasco goes down.
This time, unlike many others, disaster was averted. Redick is a member of the Clippers, Rivers didn't resign and Paul is still their point guard. At this moment, the Clippers are contenders—no thanks to Sterling.
Although he's footing the bill for this team, he's not responsible for its success. Who knows what other beneficial additions or moves have crumbled beneath Sterling's stinginess and stupidity, or what else he's been opposed to.
Maybe he didn't want to acquire or re-sign Paul. Too much money, right? He could have felt the same way about Rivers. And Griffin. And every other dollar he's had to part ways with. In fact, he probably did. Because he hasn't changed.
"It’s changed a lot over the last 10 years that I’ve been in the league," Kaman said of his time with the Clippers, via Bresnahan. "We practiced at a community college [L.A. Southwest College] in the ’hood. It’s come a long ways."
But not far enough. Until the Clippers aren't forced to win, to succeed in spite of their dastardly owner, the change they have undergone won't be enough for us to ever really believe in them.