Heisler: Another Dear Donald letter: Welcome back

Donald T. Sterling
Sterling World Plaza
Beverly Hills, Calif. 90210

Dear Donald,

Welcome back!

I know, you didn’t really go anywhere, even if your Clippers stopped being the Clippers we’ve known for all these years.

I mean, welcome back as the Clipper owner that those of us who write NBA columns or lines for Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien knew and loved.

Wasn’t this season fun, while it lasted?

As hyped as your guys were after getting Chris Paul, and as forgotten as they were when the Lakers revived, you actually made a run at displacing the local rulers of all they surveyed, finishing one game behind, and lasting one less day in the playoffs.

All but eclipsed, your gritty Cliplets made the second round—for the third time in franchise history—falling to the Spurs the day before the Thunder polished off the Lakes.

(The second time was 2006 under Mike Dunleavy. The first was in 1976, before you knew there was an NBA, when the Buffalo Braves won a first-round mini-series, 2-1.)

Unfortunately, every attempt to start a new tradition brings the moment when you have to make important decisions.

Not that you’re not aces. but with the departure of GM Neil Olshey, who put this team together for you and was left, unaccountably, to field offers as a free agent, you’re zero-for-your-31-year-NBA-career.

As you may have heard, Olshey just bolted for Portland, two days after your guys announced he had been re-signed.

Whether talks with your people hit a snag (as everyone’s talks so often did), or Paul Allen bowled him over with a bag of money, there’s one big question:

Why didn’t you extend Olshey months ago?

This was a guy you were paying $450,000, who would have taken three years at $750K per and felt like the king of the world.

He’d have taken less than that a year ago, when he asked for an extension after replacing Dunleavy, his mentor, without getting a raise, hoping to buy a house.

The answer he got was, show us what you can do and we’ll talk next spring.

Unfortunately, Neil showed more people than yours, getting Caron Butler to come for less than New Jersey offered, ignoring Chauncey Billups’ agent’s threat to let him clear waivers and beating the Lakers to Paul.

So, this spring’s dialogue turned out to be shorter than you were figuring on, huh?

Half the teams in this league have assistant coaches making $750K, but you’re not “most teams,” are you?

After 22 years as your GM, Elgin Baylor, a living NBA legend, was making $350,000.

Not that you’re not having a great off-season, but Olshey’s departure followed the decision to pick up Coach Vinny Del Negro’s option for next season—without extending him, either.

In the good news for Vinny, he still has a job.

In the bad news, you just made him a lame duck who’ll start next fall amid the same speculation he managed to surmount this spring.

Of course, this isn’t a good time for one of your front-office convulsions.

The source who told me two weeks ago that Blake Griffin was a 90% shot to sign an extension this summer says Olshey’s departure won’t change that.

(This assumes you offer Blake a max five-year $90 million deal, but I have faith in you. Some things, even you can do.)

Not that I’d be surprised to see Blake take fewer years, like, say, four, with an out after three.

Then there’s CP3, who’s up in 2013 and no lock to stay.

Enchanted to be here, Paul kept insisting the horrific Clipper tradition everyone kept asking about meant nothing to him.
Chris just found out it’s not a fairy tale they tell kids.

Considering what Olshey did, what he meant and the dollars it would take to keep him, this is way up there on your list of blunders, which is saying something.

Of course, losing CP3 and seeing this team scatter would be the maraschino cherry atop the sundae of your career.

An arch-conservative estimate would put your profit at $100 million since moving into Staples Center in 1999 (your idea, and a brilliant one)… which would be chump change compared to what you’ll make if you keep Chris and Blake.

There’s a local cable bidding war, kicked off when Time Warner gave the Lakers that $3 billion, 20-year deal.

The Angels got a mega-deal the same size from Fox, which had lost the Lakers.

The Kings, signed with Fox through 2015, just got an extension through 2024 at almost twice the money, going from $12 million to $21 million annually.

That leaves two local teams with cable deals running out in the next few years, yours and the Dodgers.

Unfortunately, in your case, leadership, which hasn’t been your organization’s strength, is an even bigger problem.

At least, you had professional advice, even if you didn’t always take it or show your appreciation.

Remember Elgin’s final years when you took away his courtside seats, moving him back four rows, behind an aisle?

At least you talked to him. When Dunleavy was in charge, you went months without taking his calls.

No wonder Olshey thanked you in his Portland press conference. He only got short-changed, as opposed to the things he saw happen to his predecessors.

Dunleavy built on what Baylor had done. Olshey, brought in by Dunleavy, built on what Mike had done.

Now with what could be a juggernaut, they’re all gone.

Not that you don’t have a wealth of front office talent ready to move up, but last season you cut the the basketball operation to two full-time employes, ahead of the lockout: Olshey and personnel director Gary Sacks.

Of course, you still have a great young team on the lot, for the moment… so let’s look at this as an opportunity!

Wouldn’t this be a great time to start a new tradition, going out and getting an experienced NBA hand and letting him run the show?

Hey, why not Dunleavy?

I know, it sounds crazy but he helped get you here and, even if you fired him in 2010, he’s still under contract through July 1, since you have already paid him (after an arbitrator ruled in his favor, $15 million worth).

So, Mike would have to work for free!

If that doesn’t sound good, I’ll leave you to it.

In the bad news, sooner or later it will always depend on you, so you’d better figure out what to do on those days when Chris or Blake don’t just drop in your lap.

Just know I’m here for you, as I have been, lo, these many grisly (well, for you) decades.


Mark (Heisler)


  1. Ted Liebel says

    Dear Mark Heisler,

    Isn’t it funny how approximately 1 year ago, I remember reading something you had written. It was yet another extremely negative article about how the Clippers goofed up once again, trading a lottery pick (which turned out to be #1 pick Kyrie Irving) for Mo Williams. You were saying that Neil Olshey should be FIRED, and that he is not worthy of being an NBA GM, especially with his limited background and experience.

    But 1 year later, here you are mocking Donald Sterling for letting Neil Olshey go to Portland.

    What a difference a year makes!

  2. Robert Lehrer says

    Mark, your “Dear Donald…..” letters have made me laugh and shudder for years. Congratulations on another informative and entertaining column on the Clips. It seems that DTS once again could’ve retained Olshey if he had signed him months ago. The strategies that have served him so well in the real estate world don’t work in the NBA.

    If the Clippers hire Kiki Vandeweghe to replace Olshey, they’ll return to the NBA’s basement within a few years. If the Clippers hire a top-notch GM with strong people skills, they may build on what they’ve created. I’m sure you’ll be there as always Mark, to interpret for us, new developments. I can’t wait to hear your take!!

    • Funky Chicken says

      LOL @ Robert Lehrer. Hey Robert, I bet you didn’t even know who Neil Olshey was a couple years ago. And if you did, I’d bet money that you thought he was an incompetent NBA GM who DTS was just temporarily using in order to save a few bucks.

      The fact that you need Mark Heisler, out of all people, to “interpret new developments” proves my point.

      “If the Clippers hire Kiki Vandeweghe to replace Olshey, they’ll return to the NBA’s basement within a few years.”

      It sounds to me like this is what you wish for. It’s not really what you think, it’s just what you hope for.

      Hey Mark Heisler, keep those letters coming. Because the people who read them seem to be just as biased as you are!

      Ignorance breeds ignorance!

      • Robert Lehrer says

        Actually Funky Chicken, I not only knew who Neil Olshey was a couple of years ago, but I visited him at length one evening SEVERAL years at a game and walked away impressed at the way he carried himself and his ability to communicate with others. My impression of him didn’t change when I met he and his wife at a party at DTS’s home a couple of years later.

        I made the prediction of what would happen to the Clippers if Vandeweghe is hired due to his less than stellar track record as GM in Denver and New Jersey. I’ve met Kiki before too. He’s a nice guy and was a hell of a player. But that doesn’t mean I think he’s a good fit for the Clips as GM. And no, I don’t hope for the Clips to return to their old ways. I do however, fear it.

        • Funky Chicken says

          LMAO @ Robert Lehrer!!!!! Straight up comedy!!!!!

          “walked away impressed at the way he carried himself and his ability to communicate with others.”

          Firstly, those kinds of character traits are beyond fantastic if you are describing a potential spouse or dating partner. Keep in mind, Mr. Lehrer, that Neil Olshey was a professional actor before he found work in the NBA.

          Usually, professional actors are required to carry themselves in a certain way, and communicating well with others is absolutely necessary for them in order to attract casting agents and also to attract fans. It sounds like Neil Olshey sure charmed your pants off, Mr. Lehrer. And I don’t blame you. He’s a good-looking guy after all, and he is a charismatic public speaker.

          You describe Kiki Vandeweghe as a “nice guy”. But essentially, your description of Neil Olshey’s impressive ability to communicate and carry himself all boils down to him just being a “nice guy” too. Does it not? All you did was just phrase it differently.

          You go on to point out Vandeweghe’s “less than stellar track record as GM in Denver and New Jersey”. But you fail to mention Neil Olshey’s track record as GM in Los Angeles. The reason you failed to mention it, is because there is no track record. His track record is non-existent, other than the Chris Paul trade.

          But here’s the thing. The CP3 trade to the Clippers was not a difficult deal to make, by any stretch of the imagination. The Clippers CLEARLY had the most attractive trade assets out of all the teams who were in the running to acquire Chris Paul. BY FAR!

          In fact, before the lockout was over, I myself predicted that the Clippers would get either CP3 or Dwight Howard. One or the other. And who am I? I’m a NOBODY! I’m just a regular, low-class citizen off the streets who got all his info from the ESPN Trade Machine. Go figure…

          Equipped with his incomparable trade assets, Neil Olshey was despicably unable to negotiate a deal to bring CP3 to the Clippers.

          It was only after the Lakers snuck in, brokered a much less attractive deal, and subsequently got “vetoed”, that Neil Olshey was able to pull off the CP3 trade. Initially, he was unable to do so by himself. His charming demeanor and ability to communicate DID NOT make him a top-notch GM. And it WILL NOT in the future.

          Robert Lehrer, some of the best GM’s in the entire league (R.C. Buford, Larry Bird, Donnie Nelson, Mitch Kupchack, Sam Presti) are rather reclusive, with dull personalities. I’ve never met any of these gentlemen, but it is obvious if you watch their interviews.

          Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the fact that you’ve met Neil Olshey before and that you were attracted to his aura. Unfortunately, this does not mean that he’s a good fit as GM for an NBA franchise.

          And I must reiterate the fact that I really do think you are antagonistically hopeful that the Clippers fail. Because as you said, you enjoy reading Mark Heisler’s letters. The only way Heisler keeps writing his letters is if the Clippers do indeed fail.

          Ignorance breeds ignorance!

          • Robert Lehrer says

            You couldn’t be more wrong about my wishes. I’ve not only rooted hard for the Clips to win for DECADES, but I’ve put my money where my mouth is. I’ve had season tickets since 1984. I bought them originally because I wanted to be a get in “on the ground floor” when the team migrated north to LA from San Diego. I wanted to feel like I was a part of a growing team. I’ve rooted my butt off for the Clips at more home games over the past 28 years than most people that you’ll ever meet.

            As far as my being impressed with Olshey, perhaps I should’ve been more clear. I was impressed with Olshey’s knowledge of the game as well as his personna. I didn’t know him by face when we first met. He was some guy sitting behind me in the stands who I got in to a conversation with who struck me as being VERY knowledgeable about the game itself, not just the players. It was after we spoke for quite a while that I introduced myself to him and he said his name. The other GM’s that you mention may not have the most dynamic personalities around, but if you speak to them for any length of time, you can tell that they know the game inside-out. They also possess people-skills, evidenced by their front-office success. Even if you’re knowledgeable about the game, you need to get along with and handle people well to succeed.

            Part of Olshey’s strength is his reputation around basketball people around the league. He is both well liked and well-respected. That isn’t my opinion; that’s an oft repeated fact from executives throughout the NBA.

            FYI: Olshey laid the groundwork for numerous moves (ie. drafting DeAndre in the second round) while he worked under Mike Dunleavy. If you think that Olshey’s first move as Clipper GM was trading for Paul, you’re unprepared for this discussion. And if you think that the Paul trade was easy to put together, ask GM’s around the league how difficult and time-consumming it is to package a trade. All you see is the end result, not what went into creating it.

          • Funky Chicken says

            Mr. Lehrer, if drafting DeAndre Jordan in the 2nd round is your best case for Olshey’s “laying the groundwork for numerous moves”, you are quite naive and your opinion is misinformed.

            Deandre Jordan was a projected lottery pick coming out of Texas A&M. His stock dropped drastically on draft day for whatever reason(s), and the Clippers gladly selected him in the 2nd Round, knowing that it would be a very cheap rookie contract and that they were getting a potential steal. Even if DeAndre didn’t pan out, it was still a win/win, zero-risk, no-brainer pick for the Clippers. Is this a case of Olshey being a great GM/basketball mind? Or is this a case of the GM’s who passed up on DeAndre, making a mistake? I believe it’s the latter. And if you ask those same exact GM’s how they feel in retrospect, I’m sure they’d tell you it’s the latter, as well.
            FYI: It is nearly impossible to make a mistake when you have a 2nd Round Draft Pick. Even if that pick turns out to be a complete bust, it still will not be considered a mistake.

            The Chris Paul trade definitely WAS NOT Olshey’s first move as Clippers GM, and it most definitely was not his last move, either.

            But to the casual NBA fan, it was his most noteworthy accomplishment as far as his GM resume is concerned. Me personally, I feel otherwise. I feel that Olshey trading for and acquiring Eric Bledsoe on draft day was his most substantial move as Clippers GM. And it was a marvelous move, indeed. I truly feel that Eric Bledsoe is a future All-Star in this league, and I feel that Neil Olshey does not nearly get the credit he deserves for basically discovering him.

            Olshey worked as Dunleavey’s top assistant for almost 10 years. He even served as an assistant coach for a brief period of time. This is not something I am unaware of. Obviously, Olshey was very knowledgable about the game of basketball. And obviously, he possessed people-skills. Duh……

            Mr. Lehrer, if you had met and spoken at length with Kiki Vandweghe under similar circumstances to your introduction to Neil Olshey, I’m sure you would have similarly concluded that this man is “VERY knowledgable about the game itself, not just the players.”

            If you didn’t know Kiki by face when you first met him, and he was just “some guy sitting behind me in the stands who I got into a conversation with”, I’m sure you would be extremely impressed with his basketball knowledge and persona.

            But due to your biased, prior knowledge of Kiki’s “less than stellar track record” and your predetermined dislike for him as an NBA GM, you categorize him as merely a “nice guy” who will have the Clippers “return to the NBA’s basement within a few years.”

            By no means am I proclaiming that NBA trades are easy to manufacture. Not at all. And by no means am I stating that Neil Olshey is not extremely knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the NBA, ranging from the actual game all the way up to the business aspect of the league.

            But what I AM saying is that any current or former NBA GM (including Kiki Vandeweghe) would have made the same exact roster moves (excluding the Eric Bledsoe trade) that Neil Olshey executed while he was with the Clippers.

            I will list Neil Olshey’s roster moves, in chronological order, that have put the Clippers in the position they are today:
            1. Re-signing Chris Kaman
            2. Holding onto the Minnesota unprotected 1st Rd Draft Pick
            3. Drafting Eric Gordon
            4. Drafting Blake Griffin
            5. Trading Zach Randolph
            6. Drafting Al-Farouq Aminu
            7. Trading Baron Davis
            8. Acquiring Caron Butler
            9. Acquiring Chauncey Billups
            10. Trading for Chris Paul

            These were all very clear-cut decisions. Every single GM in the league would have been able to successfully pull off every single one of these roster moves. Because every single move was pretty much a no-brainer.

            Your biased, predetermined dislike for Kiki Vandeweghe is understandable. But what you must realize is that Kiki never had the kinds of assets in Denver and New Jersey that Olshey had in Los Angeles. Neil Olshey was very fortunate to have a ton of assets to work with while with the Clippers. Trust me, it made his job significantly easier.

            He also has some very attractive assets in Portland, which is probably why he went there in the first place. It’s not nearly what he had in Los Angeles, but it’s way more than what Kiki had in Denver or New Jersey.

            “Part of Olshey’s strength is his reputation around basketball people around the league. He is both well liked and well-respected.” This statement is most definitely true, but the same can be said about Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho, who were unfairly blamed and let go by the Portland Front Office.

            So let’s just wait see what kind of job Neil Olshey does while in Portland…

  3. Gary says

    Kobe Bryant took his share of criticism and mockery, too. Was it deserved? Yes. I mean, he got caught raping a girl for crying out loud. That deserves some criticism, to say the least.

    But Kobe learned from his mistakes, came back stronger, and people forgot about his raping. Or at least they look past it now.

    Donald Sterling can do the same thing if he chooses to do so. He can make everyone forget about his scrooge-like ways. He can learn from his mistakes, come back stronger, and make people look past all of that.

    But this recent incident is going to only fuel the criticism and hatred.

    The only way he can put an end to the hatred is for the Clippers to win a championship.

    And this remains to be seen…

    To be continued…

      • LakeShow says

        That’s funny you mention prostitutes. The Lakers owner Jerry Buss has also been caught with a prostitute or two, back in the 80’s and 90’s. He has also been known to consistently have girlfriends who are half his daughter’s age.

        But I don’t see any “Dear Jerry” letters.

        Is it because his team wins? I think so…

        So winning cures all? Is this where our society is at? As long as you win, it’s OK?

        Unfortunately, this is the cold truth.

  4. jenna says

    Good article! I’m a Clippers fan but was very disappointed by the recent moves…keeping Vinny but letting go of Olshey?? WTF? I find that some Clippers fans are very defensive about everything and get butt hurt. We have a GREAT team but a very bad owner. Deal with it. This all stems from having the worst/cheapest owner in the league. Hope we can keep CP3 still but we gotta get a new coach to at least get some respect.

  5. Katelyn Faber says

    Bash Sterling all you want. Discredit CP3 and Blake Griffin’s talents if you wish.

    Bottom line is, none of the Clippers players have ever raped someone.

    It’s great that Kobe has 5 rings. But it’s too bad that you cannot take those rings with you to when it’s judgement day. God will only judge Kobe for the type of person he was while alive.

    And we all know about what happened in Colorado…

    • Wendy says

      I don’t see anything in the Open Letter about discrediting Paul or Griffin…
      And is it God that will judge Kobe or you? Because no judge on Earth has even judged him for what happened, and the article didnt even mention him at all…
      It seems as if you have some incredible biases and rush to a rant just for the sake of the rant

      • Gary says

        Well, the reason no judge on Earth has judged Kobe for what happened, is because he paid the girl to basically go away and keep her mouth shut. Unfortunately, this is the legal system in America.

        I do agree that it was a biased comment, but I think Mark Heisler’s Open Letter is also pretty incredibly biased itself and a is a “rush to a rant just for the sake of the rant”.

  6. Carol Johnsen says

    Mark Heisler’s “Dear Donald” letters were always a treat to read when I lived in L.A. and I still enjoy them now that I live in Vancouver, WA, across the river from Portland, OR – home of the Trail Blazers’ new GM Neil Olshey. Keep those letters coming, Mark.

  7. Dan says

    Your lack of skills and laker homerism never fail to impress me, any journalist worth a cent would know Olshey always wanted to go to Portland, he even said so, but hey why do research when you can just talk crap on the Clippers and the dumb Laker fans will applaud you. Having authors like you is no wonder SH is having trouble staying afloat.

    • Kjbleu says

      So Olshey actually was making top dollar, Dan? Clippers fans are so stupid it’s funny when they get their just deserts and the team implodes, as it always does when the worst owner in history is involved. Say goodbye to Chris Paul in a couple years, and Blake will not finish his career on the LA jv squad, either. But you keep making excuses, Dan, and line the pockets of an owner who is a convicted racist.

      • NP says

        How can you try to point out the lack of morality on the Clipper’s squad? Sure, we admit DTS isn’t a great owner, but we are trying to have a fresh start and I’m sure DTS is also. This was not DTS’ fault; it was apparent that Olshey desired to go to Portland even last year, but he finally got the chance now. You call the Clippers into character when the Lakers’ team is full of a bunch of punks. Please, what have we done to receive our “just deserts?” You speak as if we did something wrong and we deserve some sort of punishment. Don’t go around calling fans stupid when they know the full situation and all you can do is point to the past as an indicator to the present and future. Just because you guys are trapped in some horrid doesn’t mean we are. The players win games, not the GMs. And before you start bagging on who our GM is going to be, look at your situation. You have an aging superstar who has single-handedly ruined your salary cap. Your center and 2nd best player is an immature punk who can’t keep his mouth shut. The co-leader of the squad which won you two championships is now being thrown under the bus, and the point guard who Laker fans claimed “put you into Championship contention” proved to disappear in the playoffs.

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