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|Elgin Baylor spent 22 years with the Clippers, winning executive of the year honors in 2006.|
Elgin Baylor will likely go down simultaneously as one of the most enduring -- and least notable -- executives in the history of sports.
So much, then, for the fantasy notion that Baylor would be the one prominent figure in a quarter-century of Clippers history under Donald Sterling who could avoid leaving the organization in a messy divorce. We're instead looking at the usual unsavory parting of Sterling and one of his leading basketball men, requiring the intervention of lawyers to negotiate a resolution.The Clippers might actually run more smoothly without Baylor, because it reduces their management muddle from three factions -- (1) Sterling and team president Andy Roeser, (2) Dunleavy and trusty aide Neil Olshey, (3) Baylor -- to two. It's also undeniable that Dunleavy -- whether it was somehow keeping the Clips in the free-agent hunt for Kobe Bryant all the way to the buzzer in the summer of 2004 or combining with the supreme on-court confidence of Sam Cassell to lead them to within one win of the Western Conference finals in 2006 -- gave this longtime laughingstock of a franchise credibility it had never had previously. Yet none of that stops us from wishing that ol' No. 22, after an unfathomable 22 seasons at Sterling's side, went out in the more stately manner he deserved this time. Baylor is routinely lampooned for his draft record and the serial losing endured by the Clips during his tenure, but you can legitimately throw out much of his first 15 years, when Sterling's constant interference and infamous reluctance to spend made the GM's job almost impossible. Not until the club moved into Staples Center in 1999, with its big-league revenue streams, did Sterling consider the possibility of actually spending money to make money -- known in professional sports as Trying To Win -- and the years since reflect rather favorably on Baylor. After bottoming out with the monumental mistake of drafting Michael Olowokandi with the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, Baylor enjoyed a string of successes, including the draft-day trades for Corey Maggette and Elton Brand, drafting Chris Kaman sixth overall in 2003 and, while still clinging to a influential role, leading the way on the deal to acquire Cassell and a future first-round pick from Minnesota for Marko Jaric in 2005. You thought all that would add up to at least one soft, happy swoop of a landing, even from Sterling. Gullible me. Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.