Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the protracted negotiations between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Boston Celtics in the (perhaps) ongoing struggle to make Doc Rivers the new coach of the Clippers has been the sometimes very different reporting that has come from the reporters most closely following the story.
Journalists are ostensibly unbiased, reporting simply the facts. That's bullshit of course -- everyone has biases, which they can try to overcome or at least disclose -- but it's not even necessarily the issue here.
Why is that Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo! Sports and an east coast guy), Steve Bulpett (Boston Herald) and Baxter Holmes (Boston Globe) seem to have one version of the story while Brad Turner (LA Times) and Mark Heisler (formerly of the Times) have a different version? It's not just bias -- it's because their sources are in the opposing camps of the negotiations, and those camps are spinning the story like presidential campaign managers.
As we sit here Saturday, wondering what is really happening, Woj has stated unequivocally that Rivers has informed the Clippers that he will not coach them -- which would obviously put an end to at least the Rivers chapter. Yet Turner's latest story in the LA Times says the negotiations will resume on Monday, a sentiment echoed by Heisler. If the Clippers camp is leaking that talks will resume on Monday, then it would seem that Rivers has not cut them off completely.
And really, why would he? Woj himself reported at an earlier stage of the process that the Clippers and Rivers had agreed to a new five year contract that would pay Rivers up to $8MM per season with incentives -- that is, still the most lucrative coaching contract in the NBA and more than he was making in Boston. He was even planning to bring his staff with him to L.A. I get it that the process has been frustrating -- heck, I'm frustrated -- but does it really make sense that Rivers would be at the point of having agreed to compensation and negotiated the transfer of his staff on Wednesday night, only to dump the whole thing on Friday because he's frustrated with the deal the CELTICS are getting? The current haggling isn't even something that directly affects Rivers. Is he really saying "The deal's off -- sure, you're willing to pay me between $35MM and $40MM, but if you won't give Danny Ainge at least a first round pick, I'm outta here!" Maybe that's what is happening -- but it would be a little weird, to say the least.
In fact, the story has the feel of something constructed in the Celtics camp to exact maximum leverage. Ainge has issued ultimatums in the past -- "There's absolutely no deal without Eric Bledsoe! Just kidding!" -- and it didn't work out so well. Ainge walking away wouldn't raise an eyebrow in the Clippers camp. But Rivers walking away? That would get their attention at least.
And then there's the Donald Sterling angle in all of this. Quite handily for the Celtics camp, any and all hiccups in the negotiations can quite believably be laid at Sterling's doorstep -- he's the perfect scapegoat. Every citizen of Clips Nation knows that I have many issues with Sterling, and count me among those who believe that he's capable of inexplicable behavior. The Clippers side of this negotiation has indeed appeared bizarre at times -- but isn't it a tad too convenient to blame it all on Sterling?
One possible explanation for the Clippers' behavior throughout this process could be that they've been playing hard ball, plain and simple. After all, the Clippers have more options without this deal than Boston does. L.A. said no on Bledsoe -- and Boston backed down. Now that the negotiations turned to a deal for Rivers, they've once again taken a hard line. Is it unnecessarily hard? Not until it actually kills the deal. If a different owner were involved in this process, it might be described as shrewd. But it's Sterling, so everyone finds it very believable that he's being cheap or even irrational.
I grow weary of saying it, but the deal is only dead when the Clippers hire a different coach. They have several candidates they like, and they feel like they have time to make this decision. Thursday's NBA draft has been suggested as a deadline for having a coach -- but they can make a draft pick without a coach if they have to. Even so, they'd no doubt like to have the situation resolved by then.
There's a distinct possibility that the Clippers have misplayed this negotiation, that they overplayed their hand. There's even a slight possibility that it could cost them Chris Paul. We'll find out a little more on Monday about which version of events is more correct.