The Los Angeles Clippers remain one of the NBA's most entertaining teams, a squad bent on attempting to move up in the NBA's strata after a second-round appearance last season (just the team's second trip to that round since moving to Los Angeles in 1984), in a season rife with potential once it gets its injury and conditioning issues settled out and, possibly, decides to upgrade on the sideline.
The team also, outside of splashy free-agent moves that really didn't start until the team matched offers for free agents Elton Brand and Corey Maggette nine years ago, remains insufferably cheap. The franchise can point to massive contract extensions for big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and the hoped for deal this summer that will keep Chris Paul around, but outside of players the franchise led by team owner Donald Sterling remains a Mickey Mouse organization. Actually, strike that. Disney actually spends lots of money on its employees.
The latest proof? Word from the Los Angeles Times on the jump that Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey made from the Clippers to Portland last year. The Blazers have some nice assets, but they're also a rebuilding team working without super-high draft picks and some pretty expensive contracts already on the payroll; on top of the fact that owner Paul Allen has gone through three (two real, one pseudo) GMs in three previous seasons. The Clippers were a potential 50-win team with the best point guard in the world and Griffin's potential on the roster. Why leave?
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They're the Clippers. And according to this piece, they're super-cheap. Read on:
The Clippers announced on June 1 that they had reached an agreement in principle to retain Olshey. Three days later, he was on the Trail Blazers' payroll.
What happened? Portland owner Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, swooped in with a contract offer including more money and more years than a proposal previously made by Donald Sterling, his Clippers counterpart.
Call it Deal 2.0.
Olshey's contract reportedly was for three guaranteed years and $3.6 million, with team options for two additional years. Sterling had offered one year for about $750,000.
It's true that Olshey's annual salary in Portland nearly doubled the offer that the Clippers gave him, but to me the sticking point is the "one year" part of Los Angeles' offer. Sterling couldn't be bothered to put two or three (or, heaven forbid, four or five?) years on the table for the man whose cap work and draft work aided in turning the Clippers back into winners?
(Although, yes, the difference between a guaranteed $1.2 million and $750,000 is pretty significant.)
One year, though. That's insulting for a start, and made all the more frustrating when you read Ben Bolch's report that points out that Olshey was on a "month-to-month" contract with the Clippers.
Think about that.
Leader of your team. "Director of basketball operations." Structure-creating influence above all. Someone who is asked to make deals in February that will result in space to sign or trade for someone months or even years later, and you keep him around on a month-by-month basis. No mere scout, no tape operator or front office helper. The boss of the basketball team, "month-to-month."
It's no wonder Olshey readily agreed that, even before hearing the contents of Portland's offer to him, that he wouldn't give the Clippers a chance to counter offer before taking or declining Paul Allen's deal. Such is the loyalty you engender when you keep a personnel chief around "month-to-month," and then offer him a one-year deal following your best season in years.
This isn't to say we're Olshey's biggest fans. We wonder about the courtship of Nicolas Batum in Portland, and his role in hiring Vinny Del Negro (who may have won over Sterling, personally) in Los Angeles. Stuck without much to leap toward in his first offseason with Portland, Olshey did well in the draft and sustained some needed rotation helpers alongside giving Terry Stotts what might be his last chance as an NBA head coach.
No executive should have been treated like that in Los Angeles, though. Just like no coach deserves the "what part of 'guaranteed' don't you understand?"-treatment that Sterling gives his ex-coaches, and scouts and front office workers shouldn't have to endlessly chase down their agreed-upon payment in the Clipper organization. If Bolch's reporting is correct, this is just another embarrassing turn for Sterling, and the Clippers.
And for the NBA, the league that never seems to care about its greatest embarrassment in Donald Sterling.
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