Under New Owner, Clippers Hope To Sail Ahead

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Less than six months ago, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA. Sterling was forced to sell his team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. And then sued the league for $1 billion in damages.

We’re tired of talking about all of that, so we invited Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times to talk about how the Clippers are faring … as a basketball team.

I think they really do get a kick out of [Steve Ballmer's] energy and his enthusiasm for winning. Frankly he's bringing a presence that I don't know that we've seen in the NBA.

Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times

BB: Yeah, that's certainly one way to put it. They've been mixing and matching lineups and resting star players and trying to see what works and what doesn't. So their slow play in the preseason is not really a big concern for them. But they are ready to get going. In fact, I've had several players say that they would wish that the playoffs started this week instead of the regular season because they're so eager to atone for what happened last year when people thought they had a chance to make the NBA Finals and fell a little bit short of that.

BL: On Wednesday, Steve Ballmer attended his first home game since buying the Clippers back in August. One of your colleagues wrote that when Ballmer was shown on the Jumbotron he “started clapping so intensely that it looked as though he might injure himself.” Did that inspire the team to play any better?

BB: I think they really do get a kick out of his energy and his enthusiasm for winning. Frankly he's bringing a presence that I don't know that we've seen in the NBA. Mark Cuban certainly is visible but I don't know if he's as voluble as Steve Ballmer. So this is going to be something that's going to be interesting to track all season long as to his role in games as an entertainer.

BL: Blake Griffin has been key to the Clippers’ success since being named rookie of the year after the 2010-11 season. But last week Griffin vowed to "stand up for himself" more after hard fouls, and over the weekend he allegedly stood up for himself a bit too aggressively with a zealous fan. Should coach Doc Rivers be worried about his star?

[sidebar title="Is Kobe To Blame?" width="630" align="right"] While the Clippers could vie for the NBA title, the Lakers' outlook is far less promising. A new report says Kobe Bryant is the problem. [/sidebar]BB: I don't think so. I think what happened in Las Vegas — we don't know the full story; only allegations. He did surprise some people with those comments about standing up for himself. You have to wonder, you know, the next time someone like Serge Ibaka from Oklahoma City elbows him a little too viciously, what is he going to do? Is he going to retaliate? He's done a great job so far in his career of restraining himself, but the day may be coming where that changes.

BL: What, if any, other concerns does Doc Rivers have  as the season begins?

BB: Last year in the playoffs they had an epic meltdown in Game 5 and never really recovered from that. So when things get tough, how is this team going to respond? Last season, obviously, with the Donald Sterling situation that was something nobody could anticipate or prepare for. Even though they got through that first round and really weathered that storm, I feel like they did kind of get an adrenaline  rush from that and kind of ran out of gas in the second round against Oklahoma City. So I'm not anticipating anything like that happening this year that they'll have to deal with.

BL: I can’t resist asking just one more question about the ongoing Sterling Saga. Last week Mr. Sterling withdrew his lawsuit against the league and his wife for fraud, but only so he could better focus on his federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA. Do you have any sense at all of how this is ultimately all going to shake out?

BB: Well, I'm not going to pretend to be a legal expert but at this point he's pretty much throwing Hail Marys with everything he's doing in court, so I don't anticipate any of this to shake out in his favor. I think that he's already indemnified, as part of the sales agreement between his wife and Steve Ballmer, the league and the Clippers against lawsuits, so in effect he's essentially suing himself. So I don't really see this overturning anything or resulting in any big financial award for Donald Sterling.


This segment aired on October 25, 2014.


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