Donald T. Sterling… No longer the worst owner in the NBA?

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The Donald has gotten more crap than any NBA owner, and let’s be honest, he’s deserved it.  In the past he’s let decent Clippers walk for nothing, he’s refused to make offers to free agents, he’s tried to pay as little salary as possible because he could make more money by spending the minimum on a bad team (kinda similar to the Mel Brooks’ masterpiece The Producers, no?).  With the Milwaukee Bucks not even making a qualifying offer to Charlie Villanueva after trading away Richard Jefferson for scrap parts, they seem to only care about cutting costs.  If anyone tells you they’re building towards the future, don’t buy it.  They could’ve gotten a semi-decent young player for RJ, much like how The Nets at least got Courtney Lee in return for Vince Carter.  And Villanueva’s still young (what, 24?), so letting him walk for nothing is an awful move.  Even if the team didn’t want to keep him, he’s a solid commodity that could’ve at least been traded.  He may be inconsistent, but a PF who can shoot the 3 is extremely valuable these days (as seen by the fact that mediocre players like Scalabrine and Matt Bonner got decent playing time in big playoff games mostly ‘cuz they can stretch out the opposing team’s D with their shooting).

Okay, okay, so maybe there are other bad owners now because of the economy, but does that take Sterling off the hook?  He was cheap before the economy tanked, so surely Milwaukee still hasn’t sunk that low or at least should merely be tied with Donald for The Worst Ownership Award?  But no way should the Bucks be the worst, right?  Well, let’s look at Donald T. Sterling more closely to decide…

As a human being, Sterling may be thoroughly lacking in common decency, however the truth is as an NBA owner he’s actually changed a bunch in recent years.  He offered good-size contracts to free agents like Baron Davis, Cat Mobley, and Kobe Bryant (snagging the first two, and um, kinda missing out on that third dude who I hear has had some marginal success on another team).  He okayed trades that brought on more salary (like the acquisitions of Camby and Zach Randolph).  A few years ago he even ponied up big contracts to keep top players like Elton Brand and Corey Maggette (and supposedly he was going to match Lamar Odom’s deal from Miami until Odom made it extremely clear that he didn’t want to return).  Yes, he went about it in a cheap way and waited for other teams to give offers to all three of those guys so that he could just match them, but doesn’t it make more sense to see what the market value out there truly is before just throwing out a huge contract.  The Knicks gave Allan Houston a $99 million contract when no other team probably would’ve offered him more than $75.  Or Orlando gave Rashard Lewis $126 million dollars, and it could be legitimately argued that he was their fourth best player last year (behind Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and first half of the season All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson).  Lewis would’ve been lucky to get $90 million, and had Orlando paid less for him, they might not now be in the position where they probably will have to let Turk go (&possibly Gortat?).

Obviously when it comes to signing star players it’s not just about the money, it’s also about the “respect” they feel they’re getting.  If Orlando had waited for Seattle to offer Rashard $85 million and then they tried to go Price-Is-Right-style by offering $85 million and 1 buck, he clearly wouldn’t have left the Sonics for the Magic.  Some claim that the reason that Elton Brand chose to go with Philly over re-signing with the Clips was because he was offended that they didn’t offer more cheddar.  The thing is, the Clips did up the ante and eventually offered more $ than Brand took from the Sixers.  Plus Brand had complained earlier in the season that he wanted the Clips to go get him some help, and he specifically said he’d love to play with someone like Baron Davis.  So what do the Clips do on the first day they’re allowed to pitch free agents?  They sign B.Diddy!  How then could Brand feel that he wasn’t being shown love & respect?  Plus the dude had been around long enough that he knew it was just Donald being Donald rather than that it was a personal thing.  Brand was coming off the biggest contract that Sterling had EVER given out, so there should’ve been no doubt that they valued him tremendously.  Brand had just decided he wanted out and used whatever excuse he could to leave.

All that leads to the current state of Clipperdom where Donald hasn’t been having a fire sale (knock on wood) like many other teams (besides Milwaukee, see Phoenix tossing out Shaq, NJ handing over Vince Carter, and New Orleans with their failed attempt to get rid of Tyson Chandler).  Yes, the Donald used to be awful, but maybe, just maybe, there’s more reason than Blake Griffin’s arrival to think that Clippers’ fans should have hope.