Blake Griffin's Aborted Season May Mark the End for Coach Mike Dunleavy

Jose SalviatiCorrespondent IIJanuary 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 13:  Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach Mike Dunleavy reacts from the sideline during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on December 13, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The contract extension that Mike Dunleavy signed with the Clippers in 2006 was for four years and paid him $5.6 million a year.  For the first time ever, a Clipper coach was among the highest-paid coaches in the NBA.

On the heels of a very successful campaign that year, the contract extension was deserved.  Sam Cassell was the Clippers point guard at the time.  He lavished praise on the coach saying, "I've been around this league for 14 seasons, I've seen a lot of coaches, and I've played for a lot of coaches, and Mike Dunleavy is one of the best, in my opinion, this is a good day for this organization."

It was a good day for Dunleavy from a few perspectives.  The $5.6 million was nice, but the contract proved to be an insurance policy of sorts that helped keep Dunleavy on the job when the seasons that followed 2006 failed to meet expectations.

Clipper owner Donald Sterling is a businessman first and a basketball owner second.  Like any successful business man he hates to "give away" money.  When the Clippers followed that very successful 2006 season with a 23-59 outing in 2007, Sterling, the basketball team owner, looked for blame.

He told T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times in 2007 that he might "make changes." Dunleavy shot back daring Sterling to fire him.  Looking back, that gutsy dare may have been based as much on Dunleavy's knowledge that Sterling would never fire someone he owed almost $11 million to as on Dunleavy's brass huevos.

Dunleavy was never fired.  He returned to coach in 2008-2009 and rewarded Sterling's commitment to him with a 19-63 record.  Dunleavy's "insurance contract" was winding down and had only one season left or $5.6 million dollars.

Whether it was the potential that came with the addition of Baron Davis the year before, lucking out by landing the first pick in the draft, or Sterling's lack of desire to "give away" $5.6 million dollars we may never know, but Sterling kept Dunleavy on the job.

The 2009-2010 season started with great promise and even a commitment from Sterling to give Dunleavy the chance to coach the team he put together.  That team was comprised of Davis, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, Chris Kaman, and Blake Griffin.

Now with word that Griffin will not play this year, we know Dunleavy's team will never see the court in 2009-2010.

With Dunleavy's "insurance policy" expiring after this year as well, it becomes much more likely that he will not see the Clipper court as coach next year.

What must make this so hard for Dunleavy is that he had a plan in place.  The plan was to bring Griffin along slowly with no pressure to dominate.  The Clippers would have been at or close to .500 when he made his debut giving Griffin time to adapt.

Half an NBA season would have given Dunleavy time with "his" squad and provided him an opportunity to earn another contract.

Good plan, but the plan has changed.

The Clippers now seem destined to finish the season right about where they are now, a team hovering at or below .500.  Another poor finish coupled with Dunleavy's expiring contract would doom the coach.

Desperate times may call for desperate measures.

Dunleavy, now sensing this season and his job slipping away, may very well make a mad push to salvage the year by trading Marcus Camby.  It's no secret that he is a valuable commodity that could very well bring the team a big-ticket player.

Let's hope it doesn't happen.

This team still has its core signed for next year with enough cap space to make a run at a free agent.  Trading Camby for a shot at the eighth spot in the West and a quick exit, possibly at the hands of the Lakers, would be foolish and could cost them a shot at a free agent.  I heard there are some good ones available this year.

Blake Griffin's aborted rookie season should bring him back stronger next year.  He becomes only the third player picked No. 1 overall in NBA history  to miss his rookie season following David Robinson and Greg Oden.  Robinson to honor his naval commitment, and Oden, well, you know.

Clearly, its unfortunate and another notch in the Clipper log filed under "bad luck."  However, until these injuries become perpetual, Griffin is not Oden.  Until we see him return to the court as a shell of the player he was, he is not Shaun Livingston.  Blake Griffin is Blake Griffin.  Unfortunate recipient of a fractured patella, who will rehab and make his NBA debut in the 2010-2011 season for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Barring a miraculous finish this year by his team, however, Mike Dunleavy will likely not be his coach.