T.J. Simers's ability to antagonize pretty much everyone he covers is legendary. So it's twistedly fitting that he's the only L.A. writer to directly call up Donald Sterling, and get the worst owner in sports to be brutally honest about why Vinny Del Negro had to go.
Simers's cranky old man schtick is on full display in this column (he spends more than a couple inches complaining about getting transferred to answering machines by the Clippers' receptionists), but it works here. The Clippers are a screwed-up franchise, and all the regular-season success in the world won't change that. When Simers finally gets Sterling on the phone, their exchanges are telling:
"Was this done," I asked, "just to hang on to Chris Paul?"
"I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true," Sterling said. "So I'd rather not say anything."
"So I wonder, is this decision being made because the players are now calling the shots? Am I off base?"
"No, you're not off base," Sterling said. "This is a players' league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy. Don't you think that's true?"
"But if you have special players, and special players think that they know the best opportunity to win, you have to support them."
When the Clippers announced they wouldn't renew Del Negro's contract, it was reported that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were consulted in the decision, and according to some anonymous players, the two "had some doubts about his ability to lead them to a championship." Paul is a free agent this summer.
This is the messy calculus of a star-driven league. No coach, especially not Vinny Del Negro, despite being the winningest coach in Clippers history and leading Los Angeles to its first-ever division crown—is as irreplaceable as his players.