Mark Heisler has seen Donald Sterling work, seen the genius that is Sterling in the world of real estate, seen a man who when it comes to closing another deal within his development empire, resembles a seasoned conductor directing an orchestra.
He also has seen, for decades, Donald Sterling, NBA owner.
“He’s hopeless,” said Heisler, the Hall of Fame basketball writer from Los Angeles.
The Clippers today are as impressive a franchise as at any time in their long, sorry, mostly forgettable history. The future hasn’t been this bright since someone in a draft room suggested the team make Michael Olowokandi and his one college season at Pacific the No. 1 overall pick in 1998.
A move that produced positive vibes for all of three seconds, or until a janitor looked at the big board and predicted Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce might have better NBA careers.
That’s how it has gone for the Clippers.
If it hasn’t been Sterling heckling his own players during games about shot selection and being out of shape, it has been another in an endless list of devastating injuries dating to the team’s days in Buffalo. The Clippers once traded for Dominique Wilkins and had him for a whopping 25 games.
That sort of (non-)history.
But if the jigsaw puzzle that makes for the Clippers always has been missing one or two or 20 pieces, it appears all now have been accounted for, a team that owns the type of superstar leader and soon-to-be championship coach capable of delivering the sort of success that would make super fan Billy Crystal excited enough to consider making that long-awaited sequel to “Forget Paris.”
It’s all due to one thing: For the first time since purchasing the team in 1981, Sterling has begrudgingly accepted the fact someone much smarter (not a stretch by any means) should run the organization and have final say on all matters.
His point guard.
“Chris Paul runs that team and has called the shots since he got there,” Heisler said. “He’s very intelligent, very grounded, knows basketball at all levels, from the AAU circuit all the way up.
“Donald Sterling hasn’t changed. He has just been very, very lucky to have good people around him making smart decisions, many who have since been fired or left. But they finally have some stability of being on the same page. Make no mistake, it’s Chris Paul’s page.”
For it, the Clippers today will introduce Doc Rivers as their next coach via a trade with Boston that will send the Celtics a first-round draft pick in 2015. Sterling initially balked at offering that high a selection, but then his people (translation: Paul) applied the needed pressure.
For it, the team’s best player is now content with who will be coaching him, and Paul is expected to soon sign a five-year max contract.
For it, know this: If there were ever a sports franchise where things would run better with a player rather than an owner shaping the ensemble, it’s the Clippers.
LeBron James doesn’t come close to running the Heat in such a manner, and I’m not sure he wants to. Kobe Bryant is on his last legs as a player, and one of them has a busted Achilles. Dwight Howard seemed to have such juice in Orlando, but won’t if he remains with the Lakers.
Mike Dunleavy as coach and general manager began the process that helped produce the roster you see from the Clippers today; Sterling fired him in 2010. Neil Olshey, who pulled off the trade for Paul, eventually grew tired as a general manager working on a month-to-month salary and abandoned ship from a playoff team to work in Portland. Gary Sacks is the vice president of basketball operations, and he’s working without a contract.
It all makes for the bizarre universe that is a franchise owned by Sterling.
“Donald doesn’t deserve any credit for where the team is right now,” Heisler said. “They lucked into getting Blake Griffin (as a No. 1 pick in 2009), and now Sterling almost blew the deal to get Doc Rivers as coach. I’m not saying Donald can’t do anything, but the fact the Clippers were a good team last year and are now a better one today has nothing to do with him.
“They won’t be the favorites in the Western Conference next season. There are better teams. But if you’re going to have a guy with the amount of power Chris Paul has there now, he’s the right guy.
“He’s the only guy in the league with it.”
Playing for the franchise that needs it most.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.