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Yankees of the NBA? Spurs make contending look easy


POSTED: May 26, 2014 11:12 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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As long as (from left) Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are around, the Spurs will be OK.

San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt could have poured a celebratory beer over the Larry O'Brien trophy last June. He was that close.

"Game 6, my son and I are sitting on the front row," Holt recalled Sunday. "There's that 28 seconds, we're up five points, or whatever. And they bring out the trophy -- five seats from us. And it's sitting there. Then they bring out the rope. So we're sitting there, and we're intently watching the game -- but we're also looking at this trophy. Now, we'd been there before, thank God.

"But then, it does what it does."

"It" was the unspooling of a season's worth of sweat and sacrifice in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. It was Danny Green shooting out of his ever lovin' mind for five Finals games, of Kawhi Leonard sticking like flypaper to LeBron James, of Manu Ginobili finding, somehow, one more great game in his then 35-year-old body to all push San Antonio to a 3-2 series edge.

"It" was the snatching of what would have been the unlikeliest yet most cherished of titles, for a team well on the back nine of its title run. If Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich had ridden off into the South Beach sunset after winning their fifth ring together, what better way for them to go out?

But Ray Allen happened, and Game 7 happened, and the Spurs had to, somehow, get off the deck. By now, you know much of the story, how Popovich made them get it all out into the open and out of their system during training camp, how they talked over and over about what went wrong in Game 6. And how it has served as a catalyst for their stirring 2013-14 season, with a 62-20 record.

GameTime: Spurs Big 3

Still ... even a team as mentally strong as the Spurs had to wonder, at some point: How do we recover? How do we find our voice again?

"I think I thought that earlier in the summer, after the seventh game," Holt said. "Just worried about overall morale, for everybody. The whole organization. The office was down. We were bummed out. The whole city was somewhat bummed out ... as we started to get into training camp, Pop got out of his funk. Everybody got out of their funk."

Eight months later, the Spurs are two wins away from getting another date with the whale.

Sunday's Game 3 loss to the Thunder in the Western Conference finals only accented how hard a road San Antonio still faces, and how necessary returning to The Finals would be to a team that already has four rings.

"From Day One, Pop was animated," Spurs point guard Tony Parker said last week. "All we want to do is get back to The Finals and have a chance to redeem ourselves."

Tony Parker: Redemption

The Spurs do not need a fifth ring to validate their status as one of the two most dominant teams of the last two decades (the Lakers' five rings during that period being one better). They have made themselves into the NBA's premier franchise, though, ring counts be damned. No, nobody else had Duncan to build around, but there have been great players, Hall of Fame players, on many teams over the years. Maybe no one had the juice that Popovich has had, his voice carrying like Bob Sheppard's at Yankee Stadium.

Number 21...Tim Duncan ... number 21.

It's an apt comparison. The Spurs are the NBA's version of the New York Yankees -- an irony, considering that the Spurs have always remarked how much more popular a team they'd be if they played in Gotham rather than San Antonio.

Yet the comparisons between Popovich, Spurs GM R.C. Buford, Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and with Joe Torre, Yankees GM Brian Cashman, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera are startling.

NBA Action: Game 6 Recap

Each quintet was the spine of four championship teams, the stability on the court and on the field and the unquestioned authority of the coach/manager allowing the three superstar players to lead and dominate their positions.

There were Jeter and Duncan, both reluctant to speak publicly, yet who were the unquestioned leaders of their teams, the players everyone else looked to in moments of crisis to bring their Hall of Fame best. (Duncan won two NBA Most Valuable Player awards, while Jeter, somewhat surprisingly, never won baseball's regular-season MVP award, and won just one World Series MVP, in 2000.)

There were Parker and Posada, playing the toughest positions -- point guard and catcher -- in their sports, while playing through injuries and becoming wiser and sharper with age.

There were Ginobili and Rivera, legends in their respective nations, the ultimate closers in their sports.

And there were the championships: four in eight years for the Spurs, four in five years (1996-2000) for the Yankees. Then came excruciating defeats in the search for a fifth championship, both coming on the road, both coming with the Spurs and Yankees holding 3-2 series leads.

The Yankees fell to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 7 of the 2001 Series, having captured much of the nation's goodwill seven weeks after Sept. 11 -- with Rivera, as automatic a closer as the game has ever known, getting touched up for the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth.

The Finals: Game 7 Audio Slideshow

The Yankees, though, kept going back for more. They lost the '03 Series to Florida, famously blew a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox in the '04 American League Championship Series, and lost three straight Division Series matchups before finally coming back for that fifth, last title, in 2009, beating the defending champion Phillies. At the time, Rivera was 39; Posada 37, Jeter, 35.

Today, Duncan is 38, Ginobili 36, Parker 32. They don't yet have that fifth ring, but they are there, again, years after Parker famously believed they were down to their last strike.

The great teams, as Chris Webber put it so smartly a few years ago, aren't great as much as they are stubborn. They may lose, but they come back, year after year, resiliently and relentlessly.

The great franchises don't overreact to one bad playoff series, or a key injury. They reinvent themselves, over and over, as the Spurs have, going from a stifling defensive team when Duncan and David Robinson patrolled the paint to a freewheeling team that must play with pace and ball movement to win.

Popovich insists he has almost nothing to do with it.

"I think it's totally dependent on the character and the quality of the players' mindsets," he said. "I can't will that onto somebody. Sure, I'm a maniac, and I'm going to stick to it, because I'm just built that way. Could be right, could be wrong, I don't know. I'm not out there playing every day. To find 10 or 12 guys that can have that mindset -- and it doesn't mean you're gonna go win a championship, you don't know what's going to happen.

"But to have that dedication and that fortitude to come back and try to be the best team you can be by playoff time, it takes character and mental toughness. And that's all embodied in the players you have."

Duncan is nothing like the force he used to be in the paint. But he's still effective, having developed a jumper over the last few seasons that gives him another weapon as his legs have gone. The Spurs try to get him on the move now as much as possible, knowing he can't dominate in the post like he used to.

And yet, he occasionally still can summon some special nights, as with his Game 1 performance against OKC, when he dropped 27 points in 29 minutes.

GameTime: Danny Green's Journey

"Just mentally, he's a really mentally tough individual, who really feels a responsibility to help carry the program," Popovich said. "He really loves being at practice, in the locker room, with the guys. And I think he wants to extend that as long as he can. And I think it's a mental toughness that he's driven to do that. So I think all those things together allow him to play at this age on one leg."

Seemingly every year, the Spurs find another guy who winds up contributing major minutes in a title run. One year it's Jaren Jackson; another year it's Steven Jackson. They get Bruce Bowen from the alphabet soup of basketball's minor leagues, or get a last good season out of Michael Finley. They get the possibilities in Leonard when few others see them. They lose assistant coaches and front-office personnel year after year, yet no one has come close to duplicating the success they've enjoyed.

"R.C. and his guys do a great job checking backgrounds, watching guys practice," Popovich said. "Seeing how they react to coaches. Seeing how they react to teammates. How important practice is to them. All those sorts of things tell you what you're going to get. And you can save yourself a lot of problems by trying to do that work early, rather than get a guy in your program and then you go 'Geez, how are we going to get rid of this guy?' "

The Spurs -- twice -- saw enough in Jackson to make the talented-but-chippy swingman part of their rotation. And yet, his banishment from the Circle of Trust at the end of the 2011-12 season was as swift and brutal as ex-Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson famously cutting running back Curvin Richards after a two-fumble day on the last day of Dallas' 1992 regular season.

Popovich loved point guard George Hill as much as any player he's coached. And yet, when the chance to get Leonard came up, the Spurs pulled the trigger during the 2011 Draft with the Indiana Pacers -- knowing his chance to make an impression in his rookie season would be limited by the certainty of a lockout.

GameTime: Kawhi Leonard

Leonard believed coming out of San Diego State that he'd be able to defend pros immediately. But nothing else came easy or quickly.

No, the Spurs didn't trade for Leonard because he says next to nothing. They traded for him because he believed, in his heart, he would be a great player in the NBA, and everything he did pointed to someone who'd work until he was.

"It was difficult," Leonard said. "Knowing how good a players they are, and how good the Spurs have been, and that Coach Pop was a great coach. Just coming in, it was hard at times, not knowing what he really wanted. I just stuck with it. The guys told me to keep pushing, and I wanted to get better. It just made things easier for me."

Leonard is quiet, but he burns to win, too. He remembers missing that key free throw in Game 6, the one that gave Miami a chance to tie the game on Allen's 3-pointer instead of putting them down four. Parker remembers pulling his hamstring in Game 1. Ginobili remembers an awful Game 7. They all remember everything. Because they know how fleeting success is, and they've gotten a lot more whacks at the piƱata than they probably should have.

NBA Action: Kawhi Leonard

"We know, probably in sports at any level, and certainly in pro sports, at the level we play at, to have this kind of run is crazy," Holt said. "Seventeen years of 50 [regular-season wins]? I've only had one year that haven't been in the playoffs, that's how spoiled I am. It was my first year. And I thank God for it. Not only because we got Tim, but I was a new owner. And it taught me a lot of things that year. We were 20-62. We were miserable. And it woke me up."

That first year, Holt's kids were 12 and 10.

"I told them we were going to buy into the Spurs," he said. "They were excited. So the end of the year comes, and we're 20-62. And they come in one and they said, 'Dad, mom, can we talk?' So we sit down and talk. And they say, 'Can we sell the Spurs?' And I say, 'What do you mean, sell the Spurs?' And they say, 'Dad, everybody at school thinks you're an idiot. They really think you don't get it.' And they were serious. And they said, 'We try to defend you, but we're wondering, too.' "

It is so, so hard to win in this league. The Spurs only make it look easy.

DRIBBLES

I told you when I wrote about ex-Warriors coach Mark Jackson two weeks ago: When it comes to acts of personnel lunacy by many of today's NBA owners, the skin color of the people they cashier doesn't matter.

Today's latest: Grizzlies owner Robert Pera. If you can figure out what the hell he's doing, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

A year ago, Pera signed off on letting the franchise's all-time winningest coach, Lionel Hollins, walk. Memphis never made a serious effort to re-sign him. Last week, Pera fired the guy that decided not to bring Hollins back, team CEO Jason Levien, who'd help broker the deal that got Pera the team in the first place, along with the team's well-respected assistant general manager, Stu Lash.

Now, Pera came within a day or so of losing the coach that replaced Hollins and won 50 games this season, Dave Joerger. Pera seemingly dared Joerger to make a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves to become their new coach -- until, at the 11th hour, suddenly realizing Joerger was indeed going to leave, somehow begged him to stay, committing to a new contract and other as yet unnamed goodies.

Pera admitted during a Twitter chat with Grizzlies fans Sunday that he had never spoken with Joerger, who's been there for almost a year, one-on-one before this weekend. "I think he's a great coach," Pera told one fan.

Again: The owner of the Grizzlies had not spoken one-on-one with the coach of the Grizzlies, who was hired June 25, 2013 until May 24, 2014.

And, just generally, it's been my experience over the years that teams don't let coaches they think are "great" talk with other teams in their same conference about coaching vacancies. Pera insisted in the chat that he had not yet spoken to the Timberwolves about potential compensation if he were to let Joerger out of his deal, but the Wolves, knowing leverage when they had it, were playing hardball -- no picks, no cash -- and if I knew that, the Grizzlies surely did.

Pera told another fan who wanted to know why things changed so quickly with Joerger: "I think Dave is a great coach. But, personnel has to want to be in Memphis. I know now Dave 100% wants to be here."

NBA Action: Memphis Grizzlies

Do you think that, maybe, giving Joerger permission to talk to the Wolves may have affected whether he was 100 percent committed to the Grizzlies?

But, hey, Pera's Twitter chat had the hashtag #FactsOnly. So it must have been on the up and up.

I know that I sound flip. I'm not trying to be. I am, though, extremely worried about what these new-jack owners are doing with their teams.

The Warriors, to be kind, stunk for two decades. Mark Jackson comes in and, for the first time since 1992, takes them to back-to-back playoff berths. After all that, he's shown the door. Among the (leaked) reasons: He was stubborn. He didn't want Jerry West at practice. He moved an assistant coach's parking spot. And his team lost some games to teams they should have beaten at home.

The Warriors were 51-31 this season.

The Grizzlies were 50-32, with a rookie coach, a rash of injuries to key players -- including Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen. They turned a profit for the first time in years. Their ticket revenues were up more than 50 percent from two years ago. They made some smart personnel moves this season, bringing in Courtney Lee, Nick Calathes and James Johnson at key stretches to shore up the roster.

2013-14 Grizzlies Top 10

And Pera decimated the front office as its reward, leaving only former ESPN.com columnist John Hollinger, the Grizzlies' vice president of basketball operations, in his current post. Pera then restored former general manager Chris Wallace -- whom, it will be said again here for the billionth time, built the roster Pera now enjoys -- to his old job, on an interim basis, having exiled him for the Levien regime.

For a couple of days thereafter, a heretofore unknown lawyer, David Mincberg, who'd been brought into the organization by Levien -- Mincberg was also working as general counsel for D.C. United, the Major League Soccer franchise for which Levien is Managing Partner -- seemed to have stepped into the void and assumed some sort of larger role, having befriended and worked for Pera over the past year.

But when word leaked that the Grizzlies might be looking at replacing Joerger with former Warriors and Kings coach Eric Musselman, with whom Mincberg had become friendly over the last year, the Grizzlies quickly stomped that fire out. Memphis said Mincberg was only a scout and would not be in any kind of significant front-office role going forward.

This is madness, as Sir Lawrence Oliver said about something completely different in Marathon Man.

Lash, a former player agent who did good work for Denver before coming to Memphis, is taking the high road.

"I don't really have anything to say other than I'm thankful for the opportunity the Grizzlies gave me and I'm focused on future opportunities," he texted Sunday.

It is hard to win in this league. A lot of things have to go right for a team to win 50 games in a season. In short, it is a major accomplishment.

Letting Hollins go still makes no sense, given that his no-nonsense approach was the template for Memphis' success his last four seasons there. True: Memphis was horrible on offense under Hollins. But the Grizz choked the life out of opponents with their outstanding combination of perimeter defensive chops (unleashing Allen on any and all opposing ballhandlers and/or shooting threats) and paint protection, and Gasol, last year's Defensive Player of the Year, anchoring the middle.

It wasn't pretty, but it worked, and the Grizzlies got to the Western Conference finals last year.

Then, for reasons never fully explained -- though Occam's Razor Thinking suggests Pera simply didn't want to pay what Hollins wanted -- the Grizzlies barely lifted a finger trying to retain him. No, Hollins didn't want to make the Rudy Gay trade, but you don't fire a coach because he doesn't want to move one of his best players (you think Tom Thibodeau wanted to trade Luol Deng?).

In came Joerger, who'd been hired by Marc Iavaroni and survived after Iavaroni was fired as coach in 2009. It was clear that Pera and Levien were more comfortable with Joerger than Hollins.

But that apparently changed, and quickly, at least at Pera's end.

Who knows why? Did Pera get mad at his coach when Joerger objected to Pera's infamous desire to play one-on-one against Allen at the start of training camp last fall? The coach, from what I'm told, rather correctly thought it was a bad idea for Pera -- who, I get it, loves playing ball -- to get out on the court with an actual, you know, NBA player, who could get hurt doing such things. The Spurs' name came up. As in, the Spurs wouldn't do this kind of nonsense.

(You may recall Pera then challenged Michael Jordan to play one-on-one, and that Jordan found the idea, as he told the Charlotte Observer, "comical.")

The Grizzlies got out of the gate slowly this season, not unexpectedly given the injuries and with Joerger learning the ropes. But the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported last week that Pera wanted to fire Joerger early in the season, only to be talked out of it by Levien.

A league source says Pera pushed the coaching staff hard to play Ed Davis all season, and became angry when Joerger gave Davis just 1:28 of burn in a 108-90 Grizzlies win in November that upped Memphis' record to 3-3. Pera, according to the source, indeed wanted to move on Joerger at the time, but cooler heads prevailed.

The Grizzlies got healthy, Joerger went back to using some of the old stuff Hollins used -- and after starting 10-15, Memphis went 40-17 the rest of the regular season, had a 3-2 first-round series lead on Oklahoma City with Allen driving Kevin Durant batty.

Only a monster night from Durant in Game 6 -- and a dubious suspension of Zach Randolph in Game 7, after throwing a sort-of punch that landed in Thunder rookie Stephen Adams' neck -- allowed OKC to oust Memphis. By any fair measure, the Grizzlies had an extremely successful season.

Pera still turned on Levien and Lash. Levien had put together the group of investors that stepped in in 2012 when the stock in Pera's Ubiquiti Networks, as Forbes Magazine put it, "tanked," and the NBA began to get nervous about Pera's ability to make the numbers work.

Venture capitalist Steve Kaplan and health care executive Daniel Straus each put in $25 million. Several local owners who had previously invested in the team with the team's late former owner, Michael Heisley, again ponied up, as did former NBA players Penny Hardaway and Elliot Perry. Justin Timberlake and Ashley Manning, wife of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, each contributed $5 million. (Memphis sports reporter George Lapides first reported the team's numerous investor list in 2012.)

Now, though, Pera has Ubiquiti flush again -- according to Forbes, the company has almost tripled in value over the last year. And he convinced Joerger to come back -- which really isn't a hardship, given that he's got $4 million coming to him whether he finishes the two years left on his contract.

Joerger, though, is ready to give it another try.

"Dave's no dummy," an associate said. "He's not going to stay in a (bleep)storm unless he realized that what was in the past is going to stay there."

And Pera is ready, as he told one fan in his TweetFest, to be more hands-on in his running of the team.

"We are so close ... I can feel it," Pera told the fan. "I think we just need to be tighter as a team between Dave, myself, FO, players."

Again: it's Pera's team. He bought it and he can be as involved as he wants. He can play HORSE with Tony Allen every day after practice, I guess. But the teams that have won consistently over the years in this league have had owners who hire good people, let them do their jobs, and get out of the way. Sunday, Peter Holt said, "I'm really just a fan now. Because I've done my job." Those are words to emulate

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Last week's record in parentheses; April 28 rankings in brackets)

1) San Antonio (2-1) [1]: Danny Green firing on all cylinders again, and that makes the Spurs extremely hard to guard.

2) Oklahoma City (1-2) [2]: Given how his team fell apart without him, maybe Serge Ibaka was the league MVP this year instead of Kevin Durant!

3) Miami (2-0) [3]: Need the address of the dungeon where Ray Allen is keeping the horde of teenagers whose life force he is so obviously sucking out for his own, terrible use.

4) Indiana (0-2) [5]: The Pacers, for a good team, have some of the most godawful possessions on offense you've ever seen.

5) L.A. Clippers [4]: Season complete. But the fireworks are just starting.

6) Brooklyn [6]: Season complete. Team will give Kevin Garnett all the space he needs to make a decision about whether he'll come back for another year.

7) Washington [7]: Season complete. Wiz are a stealth candidate for Kevin Love -- his father, Stan, who played for the then-Bullets in the early '70s, gave his son the middle name "Wesley," as in Wes Unseld. And Kevin Love has a soft spot as a result for the franchise. But the trade talk will surely die when the words "Bradley Beal" come out of Flip Saunders' mouth.

8) Portland [8]: Season complete. Blazers didn't waste any time extending Terry Stotts' contract after second-round loss to the Spurs.

9) Houston [9]: Season complete.

10) Toronto [10]: Season complete. Peter Vescey tweeted last week that it will cost $10-$12 million per season for the Raptors to keep free agent to be Kyle Lowry. That's probably a little much for the Raps' blood.

11) Memphis [11]: Season complete. Chaos ensues.

12) Dallas [12]: Season complete.

13) Golden State [13]: Season complete.

14) Charlotte [14]: Season complete.

15) Atlanta [15]: Season complete. Sounds like Bebe Noguiera, the center the Hawks took in the first round last June, is thinking of coming over for 2014-15 after spending last season playing for Asefa Estudiantes in Madrid.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Thunder Medical Staff (1-0): Whatever OKC's doctors, athletic trainers, massage therapists, guys/gals with the keys to the facility and assorted others did to somehow accelerate Serge Ibaka from out of the playoffs to day to day in a 10-day span did, they deserve a raise, Clay Bennett. A big one.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Indiana (0-2): The Pacers had their foot on Miami's neck in Game 2, with a chance to put a lot of doubt in the Heat's minds. But they didn't finish the job, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James finished them off instead, and now the Heat are playing downhill again, a very difficult thing to slow down.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

What, exactly, do the Sterlings think is going to happen in the next 10 days?

Breathless reporting last week indicated that Donald Sterling had agreed to let Shelly Sterling, his wife, handle the sale of the Clippers (Donald Sterling has been banned from the NBA for life by Commissioner Adam Silver). That may well be true.

But as far as the NBA is concerned, it is irrelevant.

GameTime: Clippers Ownership News

Once again: The only person that can sell the Los Angeles Clippers is the team's owner, Donald T. Sterling. He can't "give" control, or his share of the team, to his wife, even though they reportedly have a 50-50 share of the team in a trust.

Any change in team ownership must be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors, which is going ahead with plans to hold a special meeting June 3 in which owners will vote on whether to remove Donald Sterling as owner. He has until midnight Tuesday to formally answer the league's charge, filed against him last week.

As SI.com's Michael McCann has ably written and said on television time and again, Shelly Sterling is not the Clippers' principal owner; Donald Sterling is. He's been the one to go to BOG meetings (when he didn't, team president Andy Roeser, put on indefinite leave of absence by the league earlier this month, attended) and the one to make final decisions about the team.

The 50-50 financial split doesn't matter, either: Lots of principal owners don't own the majority interest in their teams. Such an arrangement is in place in Chicago, where Jerry Reinsdorf is the Bulls' controlling owner. He actually has a minority financial stake in the team. But Reinsdorf, who does have controlling interest in the corporation that runs the team, is considered the team's principal owner by the NBA.

For Shelly Sterling to be able to sell the team, the NBA would have to first approve her as primary owner. It does not matter what Donald Sterling says is in play; the league is the final arbiter of who buys its teams.

Anyone who watched the NBA manipulate the sale of the Sacramento Kings last year from the preferred group of the then-owners, the Maloof Family, knows this.

Best of Inside: Thoughts on Sterling

The Maloofs had a deal with Seattle businessman Chris Hansen to sell the team. The NBA did not want Hansen to buy the team, because he planned to move it to Seattle. Hansen did not, in the end, buy the team, even though his valuations on the percentage of the team he would buy were higher than the league's preferred group, led by Vivek Ranadive.

In the end, under intense pressure from the league, the Maloofs gave in and sold to the Ranadive Group, who pledged to keep the team in Sacramento. (Just last week, the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 to give final approval to financing the proposed $477 million arena that is to be built downtown in time for the 2017-18 season.)

It does seem clear that Sterling is looking to meet several objectives before that June 3 Board of Governors meeting:

1) Controlling his asset. Once the BOG votes him out, he's out. He would be made whole financially when the league finds a buyer for the Clippers; part of the sale of the team would go toward paying any outstanding debts or liabilities the former owner incurred. But he'd have no say in who or for how much the team was sold.

2) Maximizing the sales price. At the price the team surely will sell -- at least $1 billion, as perhaps as high as $2 billion -- every dollar is magnified. If prospective owners know the NBA is desperate to sell, they could try to get the team at a lower price. (There is conflicting debate among industry sources on whether this will actually occur, though, with one source knowledgeable in the field saying Sunday that the NBA should be fine in handling the sale of the team. "Either way," the source said, "I assume they will hire a reputable firm and as long as they can sell clear title it should get a market price if auctioned effectively.")

3) Leaving the stage with at least a shred of dignity. Selling the team on his own would save him the humiliation of having it taken from him by the league, which will surely happen after the June 3 meeting. But it will be next to impossible for him to pull this off before then, given his lifetime ban.

Charles on Forgiving Donald Sterling

Hence the olive branch of Shelly Sterling handling the sale. But sources continue to indicate the NBA will not allow Shelly Sterling to ever have any financial piece of the Clippers going forward; that is, she would never be approved as an owner of the team. (That is different from, say, getting special treatment at games, and keeping the good parking, and having access to suites and the like. That's a decision for the team to make.)

That doesn't mean the league couldn't work with Shelly Sterling to help facilitate the sale of the team -- as long as she is out when the sale is done. Selling the team through the league, for example, could potentially help the Sterlings deal with the capital gains issues that will come up when the team is sold. But she can't "sell" the team. Only Donald Sterling can. That is a key distinction.

And there certainly will be any number of suitors for the Clippers.

Several high-profile groups and people have expressed interest in buying the team, with record mogul David Geffen, media magnate Oprah Winfrey and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison discussing putting a mega-bid together. Hall of Famer and L.A. Dodgers minority owner Magic Johnson is also thinking about putting down a bid. ESPN.com reported that Grant Hill has put a group together that wants to bid. ESPN.com and TMZ.com reported Sunday that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was to meet with Shelly Sterling to talk about putting a bid on the table (Ballmer was part of Hansen's Kings-to-Seattle group last year.)

There could be other potential groups contemplating bids as well, according to industry sources.

Former Warner Bros. and Yahoo! chairman Terry Semel has the wherewithal to front a substantial bid for any sports team. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire surgeon who bought Magic Johnson's 4 percent stake in the Lakers, is believed to be one of the wealthiest individuals in Southern California.

"He loves basketball," one industry source said, "and he's finally come to the realization he's never going to become the Lakers' [majority] owner."

There's also the issue of Madison Square Garden, which bought the Lakers' former home, the Great Western Forum, in 2012. MSG spent millions renovating the building to make it into an arena capable of competing for concert acts with Staples Center, the home of the Clippers, Lakers and NHL's L.A. Kings. The new Inglewood Forum has a lot of amenities, but no anchor tenant.

MSG couldn't buy another NBA team, as it already owns the Knicks. But there are certainly any number of corporations with whom MSG does business that have the scratch to bid on the Clippers -- and, perhaps down the road, provide MSG a potential 40-60 nights a year at Inglewood.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

The long, long, long letter. From Manuel Oliver:

Best of Inside: Jackson Firing

As a long-time Warrior fan and avid reader of your blog, I appreciated your measured and nuanced take on the Mark Jackson firing. Taking a few days before addressing it in your column let you address the important issues, which are indeed prickly.

Charles On The Firing Of Mark Jackson

One of the things that has perplexed me and many other Bay Area Warriors fans has been the reaction from prominent NBA commentators supporting Jackson, as if there is something particularly galling and egregious about a management team looking to improve the performance and communication of their executive team. The shortest answer is that if Myers and Lacob didn't feel like they could trust and work with Mark Jackson, and if the rest of the participants in the decision making process, West, Welts et al. weren't willing to go to bat for him, then they need to try and find someone different. Full stop.

Personality conflicts happen in businesses all the time, and modern companies, the kind that Joe Lacob is familiar with through his experience as a vice chairman and that we, in Silicon Valley work in, are used to having spirited discussions often and no fear of new ideas. If Jackson wasn't a fit for the way the Warriors were trying to run their operation, nothing will then work as it should. When evaluating the players on the roster -- who can be traded, who can improve, what player development is working and whether different schemes would improve -- the coaches have to be able to speak with the rest of the front office.

The Warriors haven't gotten much offensive productivity from the small forward position for two seasons now. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala all were passive on offense in the schemes the Warriors ran. But as soon as Barnes (last year's playoffs) or Green (this year's playoffs) get minutes in the 4 spot, suddenly they seem like different players. The Warriors offensive system creates great spacing and mismatches for whoever plays the 4. Personnel-wise, evaluating what they have in [David] Lee, Barnes, Green and Iguodala is super important for their offseason plans. And if the impression that Jackson was not a happy participant in those types of discussions is true, then the Warriors are handicapped going forward.

Game Time: Jackson, Golden State Discussion

One of the things that rubbed me, as a fan, the wrong way, was Coach Jackson's all too frequent assertions that we Warriors fans should stop nit-picking and be thankful for what we have. It's insulting and demeaning and it sure seemed like Mark Jackson was trying to wrap himself in the relative "success" of the last two years as an insulation against criticism. But Lacob and Myers and the rest weren't responsible for the awful Cohan/Rowell years. They don't need to wear the ugly history of the Warriors, it's not theirs.

Mark Jackson was great the first year, when he captained a ship that needed every loss to hold on to their Draft pick. The team looked like they were trying hard but just managed to lose at the end. It was masterful, and Mark Jackson didn't complain publicly about not having a legitimate chance to succeed in his first year on the bench --without a real training camp no less. Maybe he was actually trying to win those games and we gave him undue credit for being such a good team player. But he got a roster overhaul, a healthy Curry now unfettered by [Monta] Ellis, and a free year of learning before there was any pressure to produce results.

The thing about the race thing, it is hard to not notice that Malone, Scalabrine, Erman, and the Warriors management team are all white, and the last two assistants he had left were black. I wonder too how much of the "analytics vs. old school" tension throughout the league has an analogue to cultural/racial differences. Were I Joe Lacob, I certainly would want the most brilliant people I could hire to study every aspect of basketball performance, and I would expect that my coach would be at the very least receptive, and more ideally conversant with concepts such as regression, sample-size, gambler's fallacy, etc...

One doesn't expect most players to have to think about analytics while they play, it's the job of the coach to incorporate all the best input into a teaching strategy and game implementation that maximizes that talent on hand. It's not that black old-timers are more prone to distrust the new analytics and inputs than white old-timers, it's that a vast majority of the aspiring coaches and front office guys (video guys like Erik Spoelstra or assistant G.M./D-League guys like Kirk Lacob) who represent the new school are white and are often elite educated people who could do anything and choose to be in basketball.

The league increasingly, and the Warriors in particular, are going in the direction where every edge and idea and concept will be debated and data will be provided to support conclusions and claims as to what constitutes the best ways to wring any tiny advantage out of a team. Coaches will need to manage staffs of people they trust to help them implement and to help them sell their own observations and theories to management. Mark Jackson, for many of the reasons you explained, his personality (race, religion, prickliness, New York, point guardness) and perhaps management's unfair or inappropriate expectations, was unable to do that with the Warriors. It will be interesting to see what happens the next time he gets to coach.

Combine: Jerry West Interview

There are a lot of assertions and assumptions in your letter, Manuel. First and foremost is the assumption that the "personality conflict" only ran one way -- Jackson's personality being the one at issue. Is it not possible that Joe Lacob's personality was also part of the problem in the Bay? I have said -- repeatedly -- that Lacob, as the owner, is allowed to hire and work with whomever he wants. But the incessant anti-Jackson leaks coming from the Warriors' organization over the past two months speak to a culture that seems to view winning the PR battle over making things better. If you are including me among Jackson's defenders, yes -- I am perplexed that a coach that won 99 regular season games the last two years and made the playoffs, despite severe injuries at center, for a second straight season, was so obviously on the outs with his boss less than three years after getting the job.

You also assume that Jackson was resistant toward or dismissive of analytics, while the front office was relentlessly pushing them. I'm not certain that either is true or, at the least, a compelling factor in Lacob's decision. And: How do you know there was no pressure on Jackson to produce the first season? That would at least begin to explain the front office's outsized expectations for Year Three (which has conveniently been dismissed as a failure in hindsight by Lacob and his supporters, despite the Warriors' winning 51 games -- and, again, playing most of the season with one or more of their expected centers not in the lineup).

The Sterling Chronicles, Vol. MCMLXVII. From David Yeo:

I've been following the Donald Sterling situation (I live in Singapore) with some interest, and I do agree with that the NBA did what it had to do to by banning Donald Sterling. I do have some reservations about the audio recording between Sterling and his girlfriend being used against him, given that those comments were made in a private setting (God knows I wouldn't want every one of my raw emotions or thoughts being aired publicly for the world to hear). However, I do agree that given the circumstances, the actions taken were necessary for the NBA to protect itself as an organisation.

I do have some thoughts about the incident. I'd like to qualify this by saying that in my country, I belong to the majority race (I am Chinese), as such I do not know what it means to be racially discriminated against and have not experienced racism of any kind being directed against me. As such, perhaps there are things I will never understand with regards to this situation.

I haven't managed to listen to much news coverage or commentary of this incident as it isn't exactly dominating the headlines over here. But I remember a short clip though that I watched on "Inside the NBA" where there were comments made on Donald Sterling's well-documented history of racist behavior (made by Charles Barkley if I remember correctly, I also recall the use of the word "slumlord"). It would appear that the common sentiment over in the NBA is that Donald Sterling is a racist (even before this incident surfaced). I'm curious as to why this is being brought up now. If Sterling has had issues in the past, why wasn't he removed from the league earlier?

The NBA also spoke of Shelly Sterling's ownership being terminated along with Donald Sterling's. I don't doubt that based on whatever constitution or bylaws, the NBA would have the power to do so. However I was somewhat disturbed by LeBron's comments that no one in the Sterling family should be allowed to own an NBA team though. I understand that Shelly Sterling was named a co-defendant in the housing discrimination lawsuit with Donald Sterling. But again why is this being brought up now? Perhaps at present it would be best for everyone if the Sterling family were to remove themselves from ownership entirely. But it was Donald Sterling in the tape, not his estranged wife. If the taped conversation, that did not involve Shelly Sterling, was what initiated this course of action, I find it rather unfair that for LeBron to be making this statement (again I'm not saying the NBA cannot do this as they would probably have a legal basis for it based on the constitution). This is a sensitive issue that perhaps I will never fully grasp, I'm curious as to what your thoughts are...

Thank you for your letter, David, and for acknowledging that you may not understand some of the issues involved. That's how we all learn. It is fair to question/criticize the NBA for not acting sooner on Sterling; its claims that the various lawsuits filed against him over the years never resulted in a guilty verdict or admission of guilt as a reason not to act are, to me, thin gruel. There was a clear pattern of behavior present to act upon. I believe, simply, that the NBA didn't want to deal with the messiness of trying to remove one of its owners.

Shelly Sterling presents an unusual circumstance. No, she was not on the recording. And while there have been accusations against her as well when it comes to poor treatment of minorities in housing complexes owned by her husband, the legal trail against her isn't quite as long. And, she is not considered the team's primary owner. I have no idea of the state of the Sterlings' marriage (nor, frankly, is it any of my business). But it is equally hard to determine what she knew about her husband's views on race over the years, or if she shared them (it really doesn't matter what she says now).

Honey, it's for you. From Patrik Posavec:

Hello Mrs. Aldridge:

Just wanted to say to you that Jusuf Nurkic's current club, Cedevita, is not from Turkey. It is from Croatia. Those are not so similar countries to mix them up.

I'll let my wife know, Patrik. Just FYI -- she didn't take my name. Thanks.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and other reasons to suddenly consider the benefits of a vegan lifestyle to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

POSTSEASON MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parentheses)

1) Kevin Durant (22.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, .444 FG, .882 FT): When You Just Don't Have Time Dep't: the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player award currently sits on a stand underneath Durant's television in his house. No word on whether he also uses it as a paperweight.

2) LeBron James (24 ppg, 6 rpg, 6.5 apg, .563 FG, .667 FT): How long can he keep this up, leading the Heat in scoring, rebounding, distributing and guarding (though not as well as he used to) the opposition's top threat.

3) Tim Duncan (19 ppg, 9 rpg, 1 bpg, .479 FG, .917 FT): Became part of the NBA's all-time winningest trio in playoff history last week, joining Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for their 111th postseason victory.

4) Dwyane Wade (23 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, .594 FG, .750 FT): Last six playoff games: 22.6 per game, 57.6 percent shooting.

5) Blake Griffin: Season complete.

Dropped out: LaMarcus Aldridge

BY THE NUMBERS

All-Access: Draft Lottery

1.7 -- The chance the Cavaliers had before Tuesday's lottery of getting the number one overall pick. The Cavs, again, defied the odds, winning the lottery for the third time in the last four years and fourth time since 2003.

7 -- Total picks -- two first-round picks, third and 10th overall, and five second-rounders: 32nd, 39th, 47th, 52nd and 54th overall -- that the 76ers currently own for next month's Draft.

9 -- Teams currently without a first-round pick next month: Indiana, Washington, New Orleans, Brooklyn, New York, Detroit, Portland, Golden State and Dallas. The Pelicans, Nets, Knicks, Trail Blazers and Warriors are currently out of the Draft altogether, with no second-round picks, either.

I'M FEELIN' ...

GameTime: Joel Embiid

1) Glad to hear Joel Embiid's workout in Santa Monica Friday went well and that he seemed to be past his back injury. That is not, of course, the same as Embiid being able to play 82 games against grown men for money, and do it for years. There's still a lot of fact-finding that the Cavs or any other team looking to take the Kansas freshman center have to do.

2) I wrote a pretty good column, I thought, on Mark Cuban's words last week. My friend J.A. Adande wrote a better one.

3) The Bucks have new, loaded owners and the No. 2 pick in the Draft. Here's hoping that parlay can convince locals to chip in some -- some -- for a new arena that the team will eventually need to remain in Milwaukee.

4) Welcome back, Charlotte Hornets. Now, if you could only bring back a young and healthy Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, you'd be cooking with gas.

5) Happy Birthday, Mrs. Talley.

6) Very cool idea, Minnesota Wild. I do not think the Rangers or Islanders should have a similar outing.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) What more can I say about the awful, unending parade of death and carnage that is plaguing our society? Another six innocent people killed by a sick individual who felt compelled to carry out his revenge fantasies borne out of some misogynistic mutation in his mind? And more, legally bought automatic weapons? And still more inability to catch a severely mentally ill person before he brings down another community? I have no answers.

The Starters: Kevin Love

2) Among the many who have been left out in limbo by the Grizzlies' latest shakeup: Elston Turner, who should have been a head coach a long, long time ago. He joined Dave Joerger's staff as an assistant last year.

3) If Kevin Love is indeed traded sooner rather than later ... man, the Wolves' fan base is going to need to know what exactly it's spending thousands of dollars on annually.

4) Tough break on the surgery, Gerald Henderson. You'll be back.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Special place reserved in hell for ppl that take the emergency exit when they see a 7 footer on the plane
-- Warriors center Festus Ezeli (@fezzyfel), Friday, 4:50 p.m. Understandable angst, big fella. Just imagine what it was like in the old days when teams flew commercial on the regular.

THEY SAID IT

"You are graduating today as the most diverse class in Yale's long history -- or as they call it in the NBA, Donald Sterling's worst nightmare."
--Secretary of State John Kerry, during his commencement speech to Yale University graduates last week.

"He's gonna have to change his game a little bit and he knows that. He knows me and I'm an old-school type of guy."
--Byron Scott, after interviewing for the Lakers' head coach job last week, talking to ESPN Radio in Los Angeles on the potential moves he'd make with Kobe Bryant if he gets the job.

"It'll catch back up with him. Somebody gonna probably hit him and it's not gonna be a push next time. He better be careful who he doing that stuff to. You know what I mean, it's for real...He playing those cheap shot games, it's gonna catch up with him."
-- Grizzlies swingman Tony Allen, during an interview with a Memphis radio station, on the tactics of Oklahoma City rookie center Steven Adams during the Thunder's series with Memphis. Adams, whom Allen called a "measly guy," ultimately got into a mini-scrap with the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph, which led to Randolph being suspended for Game 7 against OKC after throwing what the league deemed a punch at Adams.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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