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NBA AM: Sad Truth, Not Much NBA Can Do

As much as the basketball world wants action over Clippers owner Donald Sterling, there is not much the NBA can do… Steve Kerr meets with Phil Jackson over Knicks coaching job.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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The Sad Truth Of A Sadder Situation:  By now you have likely heard the “alleged” voice of Clippers owner Donald Sterling saying unbelievable things, sad, troubling and racist things. While Sterling’s Clippers try and focus on basketball, the sad and unavoidable truth is no one associated with the team can escape the damnation Sterling’s words have brought to the team and to the NBA as a whole.

The sad part about all of it, is that the audio that surfaced this weekend, isn’t nearly as bad as many of the things Sterling has been accused of in lawsuits and civil actions in his time as an owner in the NBA. Depositions and filed legal documents paint a picture far worse than the comments made on tape. Maybe it’s because those comments have a voice now, that all of this has become real or more real to some.

There is sadness to all of this, because the NBA is having arguably its best first round in the modern era of the playoffs. It’s even sadder is that unfortunately there isn’t much the NBA can do about any of it.

»In Related: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Weighs In On Donald Sterling.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pledged to give Sterling “due process”, saying that the NBA will investigate the validity of the recordings released to TMZ and Deadspin, which are being attributed to Sterling.

The NBA will interview Sterling and are reportedly trying to interview the female voice on the tape, V. Stiviano, a former girlfriend of Sterling; however, it’s believed she is refusing to meet with the NBA.

Even if Sterling admits to being the voice on the tape, there really is not a lot the NBA can do to an owner who has broken no laws and committed no crimes. The NBA bylaws unfortunately don’t account from rampant stupidity, even stupidity that could materially hurt the NBA.

»In Related: LA Clippers Issue Statement on Donald Sterling.

If Sterling were failing to meet his financial obligations, convicted of a major crime or even caught gambling on the sport the NBA and  its Board of Governors have provisions in their franchise agreements that would allow them to potentially seize the franchise.

Saying something monumentally insensitive and racist while being secretly recorded isn’t an action the NBA can really do much about. There could be a hefty fine, but how much could a fine bother someone who has been fighting and losing multi-million dollar legal battles for years. Even a fine in the neighborhood of a $1 million wouldn’t change much. Fining a billionaire seems to lack the teeth a response from the NBA needs to require.

The NBA would be within its power to suspend Sterling from the NBA, but what does that mean in the long-term? At some point he’ll be back.

Forcing the 80-year old Sterling to stay away from his team and not have contact with the NBA again doesn’t seem to be the proper level of response expected here.

The NBA for years has tried to bait Sterling into selling his franchise, offers and would-be buyers have been brought to the table only to be turned away. Sterling doesn’t want to sell and his franchise agreement gives him control over whether he wants to sell or not. The Board of Governors cannot vote an owner out based on comments; they simply do not have that power.

This is somewhat uncharted waters for the NBA and its new Commissioner.

What is the appropriate response in this situation and how far are the NBA and the other 29 owners willing to go to make an example of Sterling?

Anything more than a fine and a suspension is going to be challenged in court. Is that where this will get decided? Will that get resolved fast enough to satisfy the insulted body of NBA players and their fans?

The likely answer to that is no.

On behalf of the NBA players, the Players’ Association has asked current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to help them not only find a new Executive Director, but to help them understand and in part represent their role in what happens with Sterling. Through Johnson the players have made it clear to the NBA this weekend that they want to understand what the maximum allowable penalties are and want to ensure that Sterling is hit with them. They also want the NBA to explain why many of the other allegations against Sterling were not punished by the NBA.

There are some in the process that believe given Sterling’s age, his massive unpopularity and what’s surely going to be the most personal pressure he’s ever faced, that he might hand over the team to his wife and his son-in-law, which is believed to be his planned succession plan.

Would that be enough?

It is clear that this is going to be a monumental problem to solve, and given what this really is – there may not be much the NBA can really do, beyond what will play as a token response. That’s what makes this sad story even sadder.

Rivers, Paul and Griffin Trapped:  Some have openly questioned how the Clippers players and staff are going to handle the situation with Donald Sterling. Will Doc Rivers quit as head coach and team president? Will Chris Paul and Blake Griffin demand a trade from the team?

These are all viable comments; however, given where each is at in their respective contracts it seems unlikely that any of them have much recourse, at least not recourse that does not impact them negatively.

The Clippers gave up a 2015 first-round draft pick to get Rivers out of Boston. There are surely some contractual measures in his deal that lock him into the Clippers.

He could always play the ‘I am retiring’ card, and surely the public would support him, but given that a draft pick is owed, this one gets ugly in how it plays out legally.

As for Paul and Griffin, each have multiple years left on their deals. They could play the disgruntled “get me out of here” card, but would that really matter to an owner who has said and done the things Sterling has done?

Both could opt to not play and face disciplinary action. That would surely send a bold social message. Some have suggested both might become “injured” in the last game of the Clippers season and not return until Sterling is out. But again, if they go that route without the Clippers medical staff signing off on the injuries, they could face fines.

There are a lot of ways this could play out, but to believe that Rivers can simply quit and walk away to coach somewhere else is highly unlikely and as negative as this is, both Griffin and Paul are under contract giving them little leverage in “forcing” a trade.

Like many involved in this situation, they are unjustly stuck until the NBA and Sterling reach some kind of agreement.

There are reports from Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski suggesting that Magic Johnson and his partners with the LA Dodgers could be preparing an offer to buy the Clippers.

Maybe Silver doesn’t need to be the hammer; maybe he needs to be the salesman that convinces Sterling, this time, he needs to sell.

Kerr Met With Jackson, More Talks Expected:  TNT broadcaster and former Suns executive Steve Kerr had dinner with Knicks president Phil Jackson on Friday in New York. The two talked about the open Knicks coaching job and according to Kerr they will talk more over the next couple of weeks.

“We will keep talking,” said Kerr said to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com. “There is a lot to cover on both sides. This was the first time we’ve talked about the job. It just opened up last week. We got a lot of things to discuss.”

»In Related: Who Is In And Who Is Out Of the 2014 NBA Draft?

For some time Kerr has been looking for an opportunity to coach in the NBA. He admitted that with Jackson in the fold the Knicks job is far more appealing.

“It’s the Knicks and Phil Jackson, my coach. I would be crazy not to look into it,” Kerr said.

Jackson and Kerr have been the assumed match since Jackson was named the Knicks team president in mid-March. Kerr has tried to downplay the assumption that he is the only candidate, but admits that the two men see the basketball world in much the same way.

“I know Phil [said] we shared the same space, which I think is well said,” Kerr said. “We share a lot of the same philosophies. I learned a lot of my basketball from him and Tex Winter.

“It is safe to say that we have a lot of the same ideas. As far as getting into the details of the triangle and that sort of thing, I am not going to expand on that. Obviously there is a strong connection between us and our beliefs.”

»In Related: Phil Jackson Makes A Statement.

Kerr refused to comment on the details of his conversation with Jackson, including what the team’s plans are with the roster, saying that those were topics discussed but not topics he would share.

“Those are things that Phil and I are going to discuss further, all kinds of things, organizationally, personnel-wise, but those discussions are all private,” Kerr said.

Kerr said he and Jackson will continue to talk over the coming weeks.

“There is just a lot to cover on both sides,” Kerr said. “He’s got to ask me a lot of questions; I got to ask him a lot. And there is a lot of research that goes into this. It’s a big job, it’s important that on both sides that we cover all of our bases.”

The Knicks relieved their entire coaching staff last week and it’s believed that Jackson would like to start assembling his staff in advance of the NBA Draft Combine in May.

Sources close to the process say as much as Kerr is considered the front runner, Jackson is expected to talk to additional coaching candidates.

Six Things:  Every day we try and highlight some of the things you may have missed over the last few days. Here are today’s Six Things Your Need To Know:

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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