Donald Sterling, in comments made to the Los Angeles Times, had expressed disappointment in his team's fortunes and made what sounded vaguely like an ultimatum, saying, "I want to make L.A. fans proud of this team, but if [Elgin Baylor and Mike Dunleavy] can't make it happen, then I have no choice but to make changes."
To which Dunleavy retorted: "It would be the biggest mistake you ever made. It's his team and he can do whatever he likes ... but look, you can find any coach you want, bring him in here and run the situation. But I don't think they are going to do as good a job as I do. And that's period."
Dunleavy told the Los Angeles Times the Clippers' fortunes would be different "as long as basketball people around here make the basketball decisions," arguing that a couple of player deals he had proposed during the summer were negated by the front office -- deals, he says, that could have helped the team.
"You give me the budget," Dunleavy said in the Times, "and I'm going to be OK with it. I'm not asking anyone to go to the luxury tax. But if we gather information and put deals in place that I think benefit the team and somebody who is not in basketball operations disagrees with it, sorry, you've just taken it out of my hands."
At this point, not much is in the Clippers' hands. The team is at the bottom of the Pacific Division, and frustration is rising. The 109-93 loss to the Utah Jazz at Staples Center prompted Sterling to talk with Dunleavy, and then also with the Times.
"That's why I'm paying [Dunleavy] the money I am," Sterling said. "I want to see him win. I don't want to tell him how to do it. I'm just interested in the conclusion. My whole philosophy is hire the best people and let them do their jobs.
"There is no alternative, you have to rely on them, and if it doesn't work out, either you're patient or make changes, right?"
Just two years ago, the picture was a lot rosier. The Clippers were in the NBA playoffs, Sterling professed his admiration for Dunleavy, and last year made him one of the five highest-paid coaches in the NBA with a deal for four years, $22 million.
"I'm not happy," Sterling said in Monday's Times. "The fans aren't happy, and can't be happy when they don't see a motivated performance."
Dunleavy said he did understand Sterling's frustration, but doesn't express the same outlook as the owner. Sterling believes the Clippers "absolutely" can still produce a successful season, but
Dunleavy said, "Where we are today as far as making the playoffs, nobody in their right mind would bet on that."
"Maybe it's a flaw I have, but I never think in short terms as coach. I always think in terms if I owned this team what would I do," Dunleavy said in the Times.
"I would only make deals to help our future -- anything else is suicide. Anything else and you become the New York Knicks. Now if you want to do that and take on big contracts and long-term deals to potentially hit a home run or get some kind of turnaround, that's not the direction I would go as a businessman or if I owned the team."