LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers hadn’t even digested the final loss of their tumultuous season before they had to consider the growing possibility that owner Donald Sterling won’t leave the club quietly.
After a month of playoff pressure and incredible off-court drama, a 104-98 loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday night ended the Clippers’ best season in franchise history. Their summer could match the tumult of the last few weeks, given Sterling’s apparent determination to fight his lifetime NBA ban for racist remarks.
“I don’t think that’s an ideal situation for us to start next season with that still going on,” All-Star forward Blake Griffin said Friday.
If Sterling and his long-estranged wife, Shelly, manage to postpone their ouster with legal maneuvers, several Clippers aren’t sure whether they would play for the team in the fall. They hope they don’t have to find out.
“Personally, I think the longer it lasts, the worse it’s going to be,” Griffin said. “I think something should happen, and I think it should happen quickly. I think guys need to make decisions. I don’t think anybody wants this to drag out — except for, you know, one or two people. I think it just needs to be swift. We can make our decision, they can make their decision, and make a change.”
A few weeks after the players dumped their warm-up jerseys at center court in Oakland in a gesture of solidarity against Sterling, the Clippers are clearly hoping they won’t have to return in the fall with the saga still hanging over the franchise.
“I don’t anticipate that being how it’s going to be,” Griffin said. “And if it still is, I’ll make a decision then, but it’s not something that’s ideal.”
Coach Doc Rivers didn’t speak to the media on Friday, but the franchise’s shepherd through the last few weeks made it clear Thursday night that he plans to return to the Clippers.
“I told them we’re going to have our day,” Rivers said. “This is not the end. This is the beginning for us. . . . Like I’ve said before, I’m under contract. I have no plans of going anywhere, as far as I know.”
Although Griffin, Chris Paul and their teammates were devastated by their final losses to the Thunder, Los Angeles will have plenty to savor. Although the Clippers had legitimate dreams of NBA title contention after acquiring Rivers from Boston last June, they’ll have to settle for another division title and another learning experience on their path to a championship.
“We definitely have to go through this,” Griffin said. “Winning — nobody has the formula. The more I lose, every time I lose, every time we lose as a team, it’s like I figure out how not to do it.
“I don’t want to keep this up, but it is a necessary adversity that you have to go through as a player to get to where you want. I’ve heard guys say that makes it that much sweeter when you do win.”