Sterling should sell the Clippers, but won’t

I’ve basically ignored this story because it seemed pretty outlandish when I first heard the rumor, but David Geffen indeed tried to buy the Clippers on the promise that he could deliver LeBron. This rumor was supported by Geffen sitting with LeBron’s right hand man, Maverick Carter, at a recent Finals game.

Unfortunately for the Clippers and their fans, the team is not for sale.

“Mr. Sterling has never expressed a desire to sell any part of his team,” Clippers President Andy Roeser said in a statement. “Because it is an asset of remarkable value, it’s true that there have been countless inquiries over the years. But the Clippers have never been for sale.”

Forbes estimated the Cavs value at $476 million (#5 in the league), while the Clippers sat at #23 with a value of $295 million. The Cavs are worth so much more largely because of LeBron James. If he were to switch teams, I wouldn’t be surprised if those two numbers flip-flopped almost instantaneously. The Clippers’ value could even approach the Lakers’ value of $607 million.

So let’s say your Donald Sterling, and David Geffen is offering to buy 51% of your NBA team, which under your leadership has amassed a pathetic .341 winning percentage and just four playoff appearances in 29 seasons. So you make, say, $150 million (51% x $295 million) with the sale, and then after Geffen lands LeBron, your remaining 49% share of the team jumps in value from $145 million to at least $233 million (49% x $476 million).

Your net worth has just jumped by $88 million and all you had to do is give up control of something that you have no idea how to run in the first place. (Granted, the Clippers are profitable, but they are not successful.) Once Kobe retires, many of the notoriously frontrunning Laker fans will become Clipper fans, and the value of the franchise will jump even more. You can still sit at half court, only now you’ll be watching LeBron lead a perennial 50+ win team deep into the playoffs every season.

What’s wrong with that?

Yes, there’s the little matter of Geffen following through on his promise to land LeBron. So why not make the sale contingent on LeBron’s signing at least a three-year deal by July 10? That way, if Geffen fails to deliver LeBron as promised, there is no harm done. You can keep running the team the way you have.

Chances are slim that Sterling would be this pragmatic and the press release from Roeser is a great example. The part that gets me — it’s true that there have been countless inquiries over the years — seems incredibly shortsighted, especially considering this offer would add a 25-year-old two-time MVP to the team.

I feel sorry for Clipper fans. They have stuck by their team despite historic ineptitude, and even though there’s a possibility that the league’s best player would agree to lead the franchise into the next decade provided there is an ownership change, the owner in question refuses to play ball.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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