A specific thought occurred earlier this month, shortly after writing about Adam Silver’s handling of the Donald Sterling situation. It’ll never happen, but it’s fun to fantasize.
What if, once the Los Angeles Clippers are sold, they move to Seattle?
I contemplated writing about the idea when Silver’s ruling came down, but seeing Steve Ballmer’s name pop up as a prospective buyer has given some juice to the notion. Ballmer’s presence in any NBA sale conversation immediately sparks talk of a move to Seattle, and on a basketball level, the Clippers make more sense than any other team. On a monetary and marketing level, it’ll never happen because teams don’t leave Los Angeles (unless it’s the NFL, of course). But let’s take a look at why it makes sense strictly for basketball reasons.
The Clippers have 44 years of history, as three different incarnates, but almost none of it is worth preserving. They were the Buffalo Braves, the San Diego Clippers, and then the Los Angeles Clippers. Some facts:
–The franchise has never won a championship.
–They’ve never been to the NBA Finals.
–They’ve never been to the Conference Finals.
–They’ve only been to the playoffs 10 times.
–They didn’t win a division title until 2013.
–They’ve only won three playoff series, the first of which didn’t come until 2006. You could argue that they won a series in 1976, when they won a play-in round to get to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. But it’s more like a First Four NCAA Tournament game than an NFL wild card game because the majority of playoff teams bypass that round. So no, 1976 doesn’t count.
–It’s a franchise marked by brutal injuries, blown draft picks, and constant mismanagement.
–They’ve had a few Hall of Famers play for them, but only one, Bob McAdoo, had his best years with the team. And he had to go to the Lakers to win a ring. Adrian Dantley’s best years came in Utah and Bill Walton’s came in Portland.
–They’ve had great coaches but never at the right time. Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Braves from 1973-1976, left, and became a genius with the Trail Blazers in 1977. Bill Fitch failed with the Clippers after successful stops in Boston and Houston.
–Again, they’ve won three playoff series in 44 years! In any given year, whichever team wins the NBA Championship automatically passes the Clippers in total franchise series victories.
Why does this team need to stay in Los Angeles? To say they have history is not good enough. To say they have an expansive, rabid fan base isn’t true. Clipper fans have come out of the woodwork in the past few years because of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but that’s about it. The Los Angeles basketball scene is all Lakers, all the time. I lived there. I attended games for both. I have friends of both teams. It isn’t close. There’s a reason Kobe Bryant’s day-to-day life is in the first segment of the local news every night. Because the Lakers matter a lot more and it isn’t close.
Again, a move out of LA is unlikely, especially with the Clippers retaining two of the 20 best players in the league. Maybe even two of the 10-15 best players, depending on how you feel about Griffin (I’m not sure he’s better than Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, but many think he is).
Perhaps more importantly, whoever wins the bid is buying in the right neighborhood, so to speak. Why spend $2 billion and risk moving to a new city, building a new arena, closing your eyes and hoping it all works out? In LA, the arena is in place. The players like each other, the coach, and the city. And as a bonus, the Lakers are at a crossroads, which happens about as often as Halley’s Comet. If the Sterling punishment had happened at any point before, say, 2011, moving the team would have been much more appealing.
The only way I can see a move happening is if Sterling miraculously drags out the process and Silver can’t get him to sell by the start of next season. In this scenario, the players, and coach Doc Rivers, would demand to be released because they won’t work for Sterling. The team sells at some point after that, and with nothing left, the new owners move. However, knowing that Silver is going to push this thing along, and that the Board of Governors will move swiftly to oust Sterling, it leaves the chances of a Clipper mutiny lower than the chances of Sterling keeping the team. Hence, they’re not leaving.
It is fun to think about, though. Somehow, Ballmer snags the team. He says “screw it,” moves them to Seattle, and gets billionaire Chris Hansen involved, as they’ve tried in the past. The Sonics are back, with those glorious green and yellow jerseys. The 1979 championship banner is re-hoisted to the rafters. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp get their numbers retired. Hell, maybe Doc doesn’t want to go and they get George Karl to coach the team. Ballmer wouldn’t leave LA (he’s said as much), but hey, it’s a cool fantasy.
Removing an owner with Sterling’s track record—in aspects both personal and professional—is the right move for the NBA. Unfortunately for Seattle fans, he just happens to own a good team in a hot market at the right time. If it were another time and another place, maybe Seattle would be in luck. For now, they continue to wait, and we continue to hope that someday soon, a team makes its way back to the Pacific Northwest.