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Dunleavy Out as Clippers GM - What Does It Mean? I Don't Know.

As you've no doubt heard by now, Mike Dunleavy Sr. is no longer the General Manager of the Los Angeles Clippers.  Just 34 days after he stepped down as the team's coach, the Clippers have 'severed' the relationship completely.  Let's start with the only thing we really know for sure - the contents of the press release from the Clippers:

The Los Angeles Clippers and General Manager Mike Dunleavy today have severed ties. Dunleavy previously also served as the team’s head coach from 2003-04 until February 4, 2010, when he resigned as head coach.

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.

Neil Olshey, presently the Clippers’ Assistant General Manager, will assume the duties created by Dunleavy’s departure. He joined the organization as Director of Player Development for the 2003-04 season. He served as an Assistant Coach in 2004-05, and was elevated to the position of Director of Player Personnel from 2005-06 through 2007-08. He assumed the role of Assistant General Manager prior to the start of the 2008-09 season.

Olshey has played an important role in the completion of several significant team transactions, including the deals which brought Marcus Camby, Craig Smith, Rasual Butler, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, and Drew Gooden to the Clippers, among others. He also played a integral part in administering all preparation for the Clippers’ last four NBA Drafts, which produced Al Thornton, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, and last year’s #1 overall pick, Blake Griffin.

Here's a quick rundown of reaction around the web to the announcement:
  • If you can only read one other post, make it Kevin Arnovitz on TrueHoop.  He knows the organization much better than most, and he has some interesting tidbits about interim GM Neil Olshey.
  • Lisa Dillman started with a quick blog post and a couple of tweets (@reallisa).  She then got a few tidbits from Dunleavy himself, who seemed truly in the dark about the whole thing.
  • Ramona Shelburn on ESPNLA focuses on the harsh language in the press release, and it's implicit commitment to winning.
  • D.J. Foster offers his reaction on ClipperBlog.
  • Tim Povtak, one of FanHouse's NBA writers, happens to be based in Orlando, so he was on hand for the reactions from Hughes and the team.

For my part, I'm going to start by thanking the entire Clippers organization for continually stoking the fires of this here blog these past 34 days.  Several times now, it has appeared as if the citizenry were losing interest in the annual ritual of 'playing out the string'.  At the beginning of February, the page views were way down.  But on February 4th, Dunleavy's resignation gave us a nice boost, and All Star weekend kept the numbers up for a bit.  Just as interest started flagging again, two major trades just before the deadline drove an even bigger spike in traffic.  Interest in the newly consituted team remained quite strong for a couple of weeks, and had really only started waning in the last few days - so naturally the organization stepped up again and ousted Dunleavy, just so my little blog could continue to thrive.  So merci beaucoup, Monsieur Sterling.  It's much appreciated.  FYI, February was the second best month in the history of Clips Nation, behind only July 2009.

Beyond my own selfish reasons for liking this announcement, I can only speculate as to what's going on. 

There's a theory in geopolitics called the Rational Actor Model - basically, it says that your actions should be based in part on what your adversary is going to do, and that you can assume that your adversary will make rational decisions.  That may be a bad assumption in the case of the Clippers (and I'm referring specifically to owner Donald T. Sterling here); but I don't have anything else to go on here, so let's see if we can ascertain a rational reason for this turn of events.

It should be noted that by all accounts today's announcement came out of the blue.  Several NBA writers have implied that Dunleavy was caught off guard - our own own reallisa tweeted that he texted her that he had 'no clue.'  It doesn't seem to make sense to delete 'Head Coach' from his business cards on February 4th, only to strip him of his remaining duties a little over a month later - that doesn't seem to serve anyone's purposes, except those of the guys coveting page views.  So it would seem that something else came up in recent days that precipitated this announcement (there I go thinking rationally again). 

My first thought when I heard the news (and many of you had similar thoughts based on comments I've read) was that this might somehow be related to Monday's story about Larry Brown 'reaching out' to the Clippers.  Bear in mind, the story was in Sports Illustrated, not some little read blog.  In my imagination, the scenario goes something like this:  Dunleavy sees the SI piece and realizing that there clearly wouldn't be enough room for both him and Brown, he calls Sterling asking if there's any truth to the rumors, or perhaps even looking for some assurances that he'd still be around next year.  MDsr doesn't like the answer, the conversation turns nasty (as it has in the past between the two), next thing you know, ties are severed.  Note that in this scenario, there doesn't actually have to be any truth whatsoever to the Brown rumors.  But that could have been the catalyst for the breakup nonetheless. (Note also that my imagined scenario does not fit with the bits of information MDsr relayed to Lisa Dillman.)

Of course, there could have been a million other reasons as well - or no reason at all.  But I invest enough of my emotional well-being into this organization that I prefer to think that decisions are being made based on SOME semblance of logic, with some eye towards a bigger picture.  I may be deluding myself, but it gets more than a little depressing to consider that it's all just the whims of a billionaire real estate developer.

The other thing I find myself doing is parsing the press release, like a CSI coroner examining a corpse looking for clues.  Lots of people have already pointed out the very blunt wording, certainly not taken from the standard 'GM stepping down' boilerplate.  "The team has simply not made sufficient progress during Dunleavy’s seven-year tenure."  Ouch.  Of course, that statement stands on the freeway off ramp with a cardboard sign and a styrofoam cup absoluting BEGGING the question "Why now?"  Is the implication that the team HAD made enough progress through last month?  Or last season?  Or the season before that?  Theer's no good answer to these questions.

And check out the somewhat tortured syntax in this sentence: "Neil Olshey, presently the Clippers’ Assistant General Manager, will assume the duties created by Dunleavy’s departure."  The duties created by Dunleavy's departure.  Not "the duties of GM" or "the duties of interim GM" or "GM duties on an interim basis."  "The duties created by Dunleavy’s departure."  Whatever those may be.  I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like a major vote of confidence to me.

One very interesting and hopefully significant phrase is this one:  "The Clippers want to win now. This transition, in conjunction with a full commitment to dedicate unlimited resources, is designed to accomplish that objective."  A full commitment to dedicate unlimited resources.  Here's where assuming that the organization will act rationally may backfire, but there was no imperative to include that statement.  Clearly, as Ramona pointed out, it's a peace offering for long-suffering fans and especially season ticket holders, that things are going to be different around here.  But there are some items on the to do list that will either support or refute the contention in the very near term.  Namely, hiring a new coach and new GM.  The assumption has always been that Sterling waited this long to fire Dunleavy because of MDsr's long term contract - that Sterling wouldn't pay multiple salaries at once.  Now that MDsr is gone both as coach and GM, does it indicate that Sterling is being less parsimonious?  Well, not so far, no.  The question is of course the REPLACEMENT cost - and neither CMDsr nor GMMDsr has actually been replaced with a new hire as of yet.  Handing the duties of coach to Kim Hughes and the duties of GM to Neil Olshey didn't impact DTS' bottom line one cent - those guys were already on the payroll. 

If the Clippers turn around and make Olshey the official GM, or hire an inexperienced head coach who they can get relatively cheaply, it makes this press release look farcical.  "A full commitment to dedicate unlimited resources" implies that the absolute best coach available will be offered the job, regardless of the expense.  At least it does to me.  Now, I've accused the organization of overpromising and underdelivering in the past, and this would just be one more example if it happens that way.  But if the Clippers are truly fearful of the wrath of season ticket holders and inserted this statement to appease the general public, then Roeser/Sterling would be unwise to pretend they never said it when it's time to start the candidate searches.  It's entirely possible that "full commitment to dedicate unlimited resources" is empty rhetoric of course.  On the other hand, it might mean that they've already got an expensive candidate or candidates up their sleeve.  A "rational actor" would not include this "commitment" without having a plan for fulfilling it, it seems to me.

I wonder what will happen next with the Clippers?  It's so exciting!  You just never know these days!