Action Items for LA Clippers' Likely New Owner Steve Ballmer
Well, that didn't take long.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has reportedly bought the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, as first reported by James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times. In Ballmer, the NBA will have its newest richest owner.
Ballmer will have plenty to do once he settles into the position Donald Sterling once occupied. While there are multiple aspects of the reported sale and transfer that still need to take place, Ballmer will have a few pressing needs to attend to once all the legalities are squared away.
It's an interesting situation for Ballmer, if only because he's buying a bit of a "fix-up" in a lot of ways for such an expensive price. This is by far the most an NBA team has ever sold for, and in comparison to the price tag of $550 million that it took to buy the Milwaukee Bucks, you can see that Ballmer has identified this franchise as having plenty of potential.
To unlock that potential, however, there are a few changes, both superficial and to the interior workings, that need to be made. Let's take a look at five action items for Ballmer as he takes over as Clippers owner.
Make Clear the Team Is Staying in Los Angeles
Let's address the elephant in the room first. Would Ballmer actually take the Clippers out of Los Angeles and move them to Seattle, as was the plan when he was attempting to purchase the Sacramento Kings?
While you can never say never, it appears unlikely at this point. Here's Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:
There is also a fear, however remote, that Ballmer could eventually move the team back to his home in Seattle, especially considering he wanted to do the same if he had bought the Sacramento Kings. Fans can trust the NBA wouldn't sell the Clippers to Ballmer if he was going to move them, and they certainly wouldn't be worth anything close to $2 billion in Seattle. But still, there will always be that nagging wonder.
It's highly doubtful Ballmer would have paid that price (in which the location played a huge factor) just to devalue his purchase immediately by moving to a smaller market.
Early indications are that Ballmer has no intentions of moving the team, as he alluded to in a statement, via ESPN.com:
I love basketball. And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win—and win big—in Los Angeles. L.A. is one of the world's great cities—a city that embraces inclusiveness, in exactly the same way that the NBA and I embrace inclusiveness. I am confident that the Clippers will in the coming years become an even bigger part of the community.
Praising Los Angeles is one thing, but Ballmer could probably ease a lot of minds with a very definitive, strong statement that says he won't move the team once the sale is completely finalized. Batting down the rumors is never fun, but they won't stop until Ballmer makes it crystal clear where the Clippers will be.
Change the Name
The Clippers name, despite recent success, does not come with positive connotations right now. Nor does the title "Clippers owner."
There are two ways of changing that. The first is to win so much that people forget about decades of incompetence. That way could take some time. We're talking 20, 30 years here.
The other way is to just set fire to everything Clippers and start from scratch, erasing the former demons and cutting ties with the name of one of the worst franchises in sports history.
It's a good move for a few reasons. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can sell just about any jersey, but a fresh one with a new logo, name and color scheme? That's an easy way to recoup some of that $2 billion spent by creating a merchandise boom.
It would be fitting, if nothing else, to start a new regime and era with a different name. There are some positive moments associated with former Clippers teams, believe it or not, but there are other ways to remember those then to carry on with the status quo. Giving the franchise a facelift is the way to go.
As for some suggested names? The Los Angeles Stars, which actually was a throwback jersey the Clippers wore recently, seems to be one of the favorites floating out there. Maybe the best option would be to leave it to a fan vote.
Hire More Staff
In recent years, the Clippers have made some important structural changes that have benefited the team.
In a statement via ESPN.com after the sale, Shelly Sterling took some undeserved credit for making the Clippers a top team:
I am delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner. We have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premier NBA franchise. I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success.
This isn't the culmination of the Sterlings' hard work, of course, but rather the team winning in spite of their ownership. That came thanks in large part to a few good basketball minds like Mike Dunleavy Sr., the first coach to get Sterling to open his wallet, and by the moves made by Neil Olshey, Gary Sacks and Doc Rivers.
Now with Ballmer in place, the Clippers can add even more reinforcements to the staff and afford the highest quality employees at every turn. Ballmer is the richest majority owner in major U.S. sports, so he can afford the very best scouts, analytics guys and technology.
The Clippers have almost always cut corners and pinched pennies under Sterling (which is why Olshey is in Portland and why former general manager Elgin Baylor sued the team), but now Ballmer's deep pockets can help build the infrastructure necessary to create a dynasty.
If the Clippers want to truly rival the Lakers and battle for the spotlight, spending on a big staff and hiring the very best of the best is what it will take. It's about more than just the talent on the floor.
Limit Doc Rivers' Role
This may sound strange, but cutting back Doc Rivers' responsibilities and role in the front office might be for the best. Now that the Clippers should be able to spend more to solidify management, Rivers should go back to focusing more on coaching. That's ultimately his biggest strength, anyway.
While it would always seem to make sense to have the cook buy the groceries, as legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells once said, it doesn't always work out for the best. Rivers has an affinity for veteran players who are often well past their athletic prime, so a stronger voice upstairs might actually be helping by giving Rivers younger players that he'll be forced to develop.
That's just one example, but the main point is that Rivers has plenty on his plate as a head coach and doesn't have time to scout as well as a general manager or president of basketball operations might. Rivers should still have one of the biggest inputs in the room, obviously, but he should probably have his power checked and balanced by other capable basketball minds.
Rivers is great at what he does, and his ability to guide the team through the Sterling mess was undoubtedly impressive. Now it's time for Ballmer to return the favor and help Rivers by limiting his amount of responsibility.
Honor the Past
So we've kept the team in Los Angeles, we've killed the "Clippers" name, we've hired the best staff the richest owner in U.S. sports can buy, and we've limited the role of Doc Rivers.
But the one thing we haven't done with all the changes is honor the past. That's something Sterling's Clippers refused to do, but Ballmer has a chance to make the team his own while acknowledging that, yes, there was basketball played before his arrival.
There are 44 years to cover, but keeping the list short isn't hard.
The first step? Retire Randy Smith's No. 9 Buffalo Braves jersey. Smith is the Clippers' all-time leader in games, minutes played, points, assists and steals. It's a crime this hasn't happened already.
The next is to build Ralph Lawler a statue, or something of that ilk. Lawler has been the voice of the Clippers ever since the team was in San Diego, and he's the most beloved figure Clippers fans have. With a new TV deal on the horizon, Ballmer should make sure he's celebrated.
Creating some sort of "ring of honor", which could conveniently cover up Lakers banners during home games might be a nice idea. This season, it was pictures of the current members of the team. Next year? Why not commemorate the Clippers by throwing up pictures of Smith, Bob McAdoo, Bill Walton and other players from the past?
These may seem like small gestures, but it's important not to forget the past entirely, even if much of it would be better off forgotten.
Ballmer will undoubtedly have plenty of changes he'll want to make, but these steps could make the transition a little easier.