Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The Clippers move on
By Kevin Arnovitz
When the Los Angeles Clippers relieved him of his head coaching duties nearly five weeks ago, Mike Dunleavy conceded that his team needed to hear from a fresh voice. Dunleavy moved upstairs in his role as general manager and readied himself for the trading deadline and the June draft. He took a bow after the Clippers were able wipe $5.5 million off the books at the deadline to put themselves in position to extend a massive contract in the 2010 free agency chase, and scheduled scouting trips to get an up close look at this year's crop of college talent. Dunleavy was slated to be in Greensboro this weekend to catch the ACC Tournament. On Tuesday, those plans came to abrupt halt as the organization completely disassociated itself from Dunleavy. Clippers' assistant general manager Neil Olshey will assume the position of GM.
Olshey's route to the top echelon of the Clippers organization is fascinating. He first arrived in Los Angeles as an actor, having appeared on a couple of ABC soap operas that taped in New York City. Once he came west, Olshey continued to work as a commercial actor, but ultimately ended up in the local high school basketball coaching ranks. He held an assistant coaching job at powerhouse Artesia High School, which has produced a bevy of talent in recent years, from Jason Kapono to James Harden. In 2001, Olshey landed at SFX, Arn Tellem and David Falk's agency, where he served as director of player development and prepped the company's clients for pre-draft workouts.
When Dunleavy got the head coaching job with the Clippers in 2003, Tellem recommended Olshey for a position. Olshey was hired by the Clippers as director of player development, the same title he held at SFX. From there, Olshey moved up the ranks. He assisted Dunleavy on the bench during the 2004-05 season, and was elevated to director of player personnel a season later. Once Elgin Baylor was ousted as general manager in favor of Mike Dunleavy in October 2008, Olshey was promoted to the role of assistant general manager, a job he held until Tuesday, when he claimed the mantle as the Clippers' general manager.
Sources around the league maintain that with Dunleavy focused primarily on his coaching responsibilities, Olshey has been the main pipeline into the Clippers' organization for a while now. Though Dunleavy -- and Clippers president Andy Roeser above him -- had veto power over any personnel moves, Olshey was the guy you called when you wanted to discuss deals. If that premise is correct, then Olshey had a big hand in getting the Clippers where they want to be financially heading into the summer.
The Clippers are placing a premium on flexibility as they strip their personnel down to the bare essentials in preparation for an active offseason. Only Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan are under contract for 2010-11, and the organization will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-16 million to spend in free agency. Removing Dunleavy further enables them to reformulate, rebrand and reload.
In addition to extending a hefty contract to an elite player, might the Clippers also be looking for big names to preside in the front office and on the sidelines? Hours before the Clippers announced Dunleavy's termination, a report surfaced that Larry Brown reached out to the Clippers regarding a possible return to Los Angeles. Given the outcome in Charlotte's ownership situation, the likelihood of Brown taking a second tour with the Clippers seems unlikely, but the rumor does speak to the Clippers' desire for a complete makeover.
The timing of Dunleavy's firing is interesting considering that the Clippers are playing out the string under an interim coach. Evidently, the organization decided that even with one year remaining on his four-year, $22 million contract extension, Dunleavy's presence no longer offered value for the future. Personnel decisions of this magnitude are usually couched in conciliatory language, but the Clippers' press release was especially pointed:
The organization has determined that the goal of building a winning team is best served by making this decision at this time. The team has simply not made sufficient progress during Dunleavy’s seven-year tenure. The Clippers want to win now. This transition, in conjunction with a full commitment to dedicate unlimited resources, is designed to accomplish that objective.
The Clippers have placed themselves in a unique and advantageous position. Last month, they signaled that there's a potential opportunity for a top free agent to name his own coach. On Tuesday, that hypothetical was extended even further -- name your own coach and general manager.
If only the Clippers could say, "Name your owner."