May 12, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Doc Rivers knows he is close. Whatever happens in the final three games against the Thunder (and maybe beyond that) Rivers knows that his Clippers team is a legitimate contender, one of the four best teams in the NBA, and a team just a couple of roster tweaks away from maybe being THE team to beat next year.
However, making those roster tweaks may not be that simple if Donald or Shelly Sterling still own the team.
While frankly it should have been this way for years, many NBA players now see the Clippers as a toxic organization in the wake of Sterling’s racist comments, one they will not go near until an ownership change. While the league is pushing to make that happen soon, it likely is not done by this summer.
Sean Deveney at the Sporting News did an excellent piece speaking to multiple agents about the Clippers and sending free agent players there.
“You have to appreciate all that the NBA has done in this situation, what Adam Silver and the other owners are trying to do,” one prominent agent said, requesting anonymity because of possible future interactions with the team. “They came down hard on the guy, as they should have.
“But I know I have players who just won’t go there now, not until Sterling is gone completely. If there is even a chance that you’re going to help that guy make even one dime, a lot of guys are not going to go play there. It is going to be something they will have to deal with when July comes around.”
July 1 is the start of NBA free agency.
While Donald Sterling publicly apologized for his racist rant, while his wife Shelly has tried to distance herself from him and what was said, both of them are also gearing up for a legal fight. This is going to drag out and it’s hard to see how it’s resolved before free agency begins.
“I don’t think the whole thing winds up with Sterling back in charge, that is just hard to imagine,” another agent told SN. “There’s the chance, though. There’s a chance you wind up working for Sterling. That’s the problem. And there is also a feeling like, ‘Hey, the league let this guy do his thing for 30 years and they’re only doing something about him now? Why would I go there?’”
It’s easy to say that now. It will be different once the money is on the table. A lot of people have rock solid principles until the money is on the table.
Unfortunately for him, this all falls on Rivers. Assuming he doesn’t quit (he might, but it’s unlikely if the sale is moving forward), Rivers will go into July with a plan, he will have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (who can’t break their contracts) to help him recruit. It’s a great pitch: Come to a warm-weather team in a great city where you will get the chance to contend.
And when the response is “Sterling still owns the team” Rivers can do nothing but shrug.
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