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The High Cost of Dunleavy

By J.A. Adande

Perhaps one day the Clippers will realize that trying to save money can wind up costing you money, a scenario exemplified most recently by the case of Mike Dunleavy.

The only argument you heard emanating from Clipper Country to explain Dunleavy’s continued employment as both head coach and general manager of the Clippers while the team kept retreating from the playoffs was that Donald Sterling did not want to let him go and still be responsible for the final year and $5.5 million remaining on Dunleavy’s contract. (That could explain the decision to still retain Dunleavy as the GM even after he was relieved of his coaching duties Thursday). But in attempting to salvage some value from their financial commitment to Dunleavy, it looks as if the Clippers cost themselves a shot at the playoffs this season -- which means they’ll miss out on the additional revenue from playoff home games.

They stayed with him while the team dropped seven of its first 10 games, even though eight of them were played in Staples Center. They stayed with him through a four-game losing streak in January that included a 40-point loss to the Lakers and a blown 13-point lead in the final 15 minutes against the Cavaliers. They even allowed him to finish off this last eight-game road trip after back-to-back losses to New Jersey and Minnesota -- the two worst teams in the league -- in the fourth and fifth games. Maybe Sterling didn’t want to buy another airline ticket for Dunleavy to come home when the charter flights were already paid for.

So the Clippers wound up dropping seven of the eight games and plummeted to seven games below .500. They are seven games behind Portland for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Yes, those would be the same Portland Trail Blazers who lost both of their centers for the season, as well as an assortment of injuries that kept out every member of their rotation except Andre Miller and Martell Webster at one stage or another of the season. So that wipes out the injury excuse Dunleavy liked to trot out as often as possible.

Houston started the season without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, but the Rockets are still ahead of the Clippers. So is New Orleans, which has had Chris Paul in and out of the lineup. Yes, the Clippers have been hit, most notably by the broken kneecap that kept No. 1 overall draft pick Blake Griffin from playing a single game. But they also have been done in by uninspired play, bad substitution patterns and a general malaise that indicated a lack of confidence in the head coach. If they were going to try to make a run at the playoffs they needed a jumpstart, not the setback that was this final trip under Dunleavy’s watch.

Dunleavy hasn’t been the answer for a long time. The Clippers seemed to be the last to realize that.