If Donald Sterling stays, Doc Rivers will go. Those were the words coming from Clippers acting CEO Dick Parsons in a Los Angeles probate court on Tuesday, as he testified on behalf of Shelly Sterling in her battle to finalize the sale of the team.
Parsons, who was named the Clippers' CEO on an interim basis in May, testified under oath on myriad topics related to the Sterling case. But the most concerning for Clippers fans and players will be three separate conversations in which Rivers indicated he would leave if Donald Sterling won his case, per ESPN's Arash Markazi:
Rivers, 52, currently serves as the Clippers' head coach and president of basketball operations. During the height of the Sterling scandal, though, Rivers was quite possibly the most powerful man in basketball other than commissioner Adam Silver.
As chronicled by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, Rivers was serving roles as a coach, mentor and at times counselor for people behind the scenes. He was in many ways the glue that held the organization together when it could have imploded. Parsons was quoted Tuesday as saying the Clippers would go into a "death spiral" if Rivers quit:
"This was a distraction," Rivers told ESPN's Michael Wilbon in May. "In our first meeting after the tapes came out and we had a meeting before practice, and when I walked in that room and looked at [the players'] faces, it was bothering them. They were angry. They wanted to do something."
Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and other notable Clippers players have admitted their frustration since their playoff exit. The National Basketball Players Association has been strident as a whole in pushing for Sterling's permanent ouster. Sterling was banned by Silver after TMZ leaked recordings of the 80-year-old owner making disparaging remarks about black people, specifically Lakers legend Magic Johnson.
Prior to the NBA going through with the disfranchising process outlined in the league's constitution, Shelly Sterling was able to agree on a $2 billion purchase price with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. She has worked closely and negotiated with the NBA to help facilitate the sale. As part of the agreement, 10 percent of the Clippers will be used to create a charitable organization run by Mrs. Sterling and Ballmer.
Donald Sterling is currently suing his wife in probate court to challenge the sale. His lawyers claim she willfully misled Donald and acted with undue autonomy in the negotiations process. Shelly is contending multiple doctors diagnosed Mr. Sterling with deteriorating mental capabilities, giving her sole power over the family trust.
The $2 billion price is by far the highest in NBA history. Parsons contended that Mrs. Sterling or the league, which would take over the franchise and then sell it if it goes through with disfranchising the team, would not be able to hit that high-water mark in a second sale.
“In my opinion it's going to be tough to get this price again,” Parsons said, per Markazi. “If Steve goes away I don’t know how you get to this number again.”
Adam Streisand, Ballmer's attorney for the sale, has asked the presiding judge for an expeditious ruling when the case concludes. Streisand told reporters that his client will pull out of his end of the bargain if he is not put in power by Aug. 15. Ballmer and the NBA agreed to push back the date of the closing—originally scheduled for July 15—a month to accommodate the trial.
Shelburne reported that Donald Sterling and Ballmer met face-to-face Monday afternoon. No settlement was reached, but it was the latest glimmer of hope in this difficult chapter.
Rivers went 57-25 last season with the Clippers, his first of a three-year contract. Should he resign from his position, he would have to sign a non-compete waiver that promises he would not coach for the duration of his contract. It is possible, however, that the Clippers could choose to trade Rivers' rights—much in the same way they acquired him from the Boston Celtics last summer.
Los Angeles is sending Boston its first-round pick in next year's draft as compensation.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.