Clips Dump Dunleavy, Bench Davis and Hope for LeBron
The Clippers fired -- or as they said, "severed ties'' -- with general manager Mike Dunleavy, and announced it during a game in which they never were competitive. In making the announcement on the team's Web site, Clipper management also blasted Dunleavy on his way out the door.
It was a game in which point guard Baron Davis -- their highest-paid player and supposed leader -- lashed out for being benched after missing a morning practice with "a stomach ailment.''
The players were not aware of Dunleavy's plight until after being told by interim coach Kim Hughes following the game. Hughes, who had replaced Dunleavy as coach earlier this season, also said he just had been told.
"I'm a little bit shocked that it occurred,'' Hughes said after being crushed, 113-87, by the Orlando Magic. "But I've been around basketball long enough to know that nothing should be shocking in this league anymore.''
What's not shocking is that the Clippers again have come across as a franchise in disarray, which they have been for many years. In an effort to create salary-cap space for this summer, they gutted their team and left it mostly with players in the last year of their contracts, which has spelled late-season disaster.
After losing their fourth consecutive game -- by an average of 24 point -- the Clippers look like a sinking ship.
"It (Dunleavy's departure) is just another monkey wrench in a rollercoaster season,'' Davis said. "At this point, nothing surprises me here. It's a crazy season, but I guess it was a business decision.''
Davis also was fuming about being taken out of the starting lineup Tuesday. He missed Tuesday morning's practice, staying back at the hotel with a "stomach ailment.''
"I'm upset. I don't think it's fair,'' Davis said after the game. "If my health caused me to miss a one-hour, walk-around practice, and that determines my position on the team, then I'm not going to be happy. I didn't know I wasn't going to be able to start. I guess that is a new rule that was put in today.''
Davis had 16 points and nine assists in 26 minutes. He first entered the game midway in the first quarter.
Although he blamed his stomach issue on food he had eaten the night before, it was clear that Hughes wasn't buying his explanation.
According a Clippers source, Hughes and Davis had been at odds for some time about his attitude toward the team, and that missing practice was just the latest incident.
"He missed the shootaround with some kind of stomach ailment. I wasn't sure if he would be ready to play,'' Hughes said. "I went with the group that was there (at practice) getting ready to play.''
Most of the players were baffled by the announcement, and the timing of the Dunleavy firing. They started the season with Dunleavy as both the coach and GM. And now, he was neither. They were surprised last month when he gave up his coaching duties.
"I wonder who made that decision?'' said All-Star center Chris Kaman. "We don't know why or anything. I think whoever made the decision to get rid of all that money (long-term contracts) did a good job of it. They left a lot of cap space for next year, and now can go after a big-time player.''
Kaman was alluding to the Clippers' plan to land one of the high-profile free agents this summer, most notably LeBron James, who they hope to lure to Los Angeles.
It's one reason the Clippers are likely to leave both their head-coaching position and the general manager position open until after the start of free agency July 1. Neil Olshey, presently the assistant general manager, will run basketball operations, until a replacement is named.
The Clippers, according to another source within the organization, are hoping to persuade James to come if he also can pick his coach, and possibly his general manager.
Aside from the franchise's reputation for one blunder after another, the Clippers will have some attractive assets to offer a free agent like James. Kaman is one of the league's best centers. Power forward Blake Griffin, who missed this season with a knee injury, is considered a sure-bet star on the rise. Davis is a former All-Star, and young guard Eric Gordon has great potential.
And there is no more attractive city in the league than Los Angeles, giving James a chance to share the spotlight with Kobe Bryant of the Lakers.
Yet Tuesday's announcement was met with considerable skepticism from around the league.
"It's hard to comment on anything another organization does because you don't know the why or how,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "Now multiply that by 10 with the Clippers.''