You know you’re in unchartered waters when Clippers owner Donald Sterling is ready to dig into his wallet to go for an NBA championship.
Known as one of the cheapest guys in the business, Sterling is willing to re-sign Chris Paul for the maximum $ 105 million, pay Doc Rivers upwards of $ 35 million to come in from Boston to coach his team, and then send DeAndre Jordan to the Celtics in a trade while having to pay his $ 3.5 million trade kicker. That’s nearly $ 145 million for an owner who has long operated L.A.’s step-child team on a shoestring, while having his best players regularly leave via free agency because he’s unwilling to pay top dollar.
“He saw what his team did this past season and he thinks he can win a title,” said one league source. “More than that, for the first time ever, he actually wants to win.”
Before he opens his checkbook as the ultimate proof of his new commitment, Sterling is in a holding pattern, as are the Celtics, as the complicated Rivers deal still has to be hashed out to the NBA’s satisfaction. When the details of the trade leaked out that had Rivers going to the Clippers for draft picks, in concert with Jordan’s move for Kevin Garnett, the league killed it, citing collective bargaining agreement rules that prohibit coaches from being part of player transactions.
But this deal looks like it will get done, even as reports surfaced heading into the weekend that Rivers will be going back to Boston. Until the Clippers name a coach, Rivers is still in play.
Rivers can’t return to coach the Celtics. He was actively looking to leave, even with three years left on his deal, at $ 21 million. He would have some power over personnel decisions with the Clippers, pocket $ 35 million over five years and get to coach Paul and a team that might not be too far from being a contender in the West.
Boston wants to start the rebuilding process and covets the draft picks that it would get for Rivers, so much so that the Celtics allowed him to go after some vacant jobs, knowing he wants no part of having to coach a team starting over. He didn’t even want to talk to the Nets, sources said, but the Clippers appealed to him from the start.
Sterling’s willingness to spend big money to satisfy Paul, who is operating behind the scenes and playing his free-agent hand to the hilt, is the best evidence that he is finally getting serious about doing what it takes to put a title contender on the Staples Center court.
The Clippers are eyeing a deal that would bring Celtics coach Doc Rivers to Hollywood.
Paul’s playoff record isn’t so great — 14-20 and two first-round ousters in four playoff seasons, including this season’s disappointing six-game loss to the Grizzlies, with the home-court edge. But it’s not as if Sterling can let him walk, as he allowed Danny Manning and Elton Brand to do years ago. Paul knows that and is exercising his superstar clout, for better or worse.