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The lawyer for banned Clippers Owner Donald Sterling in a letter to the NBA wrote that Sterling "won't pay" the $2.5M fine levied against him by the league for his racist remarks, according to a source cited by Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY. Attorney Maxwell Blecher also wrote that Sterling "doesn't warrant 'any punishment at all' for his racist comments that were recorded in a conversation." Blecher contends that the fine "violates Sterling's due process rights." It "is not a surprise Sterling's attorney threatened a legal battle," as Sterling "is well-known for litigious tactics, and the league had been expecting Sterling to fight." Blecher repped Sterling in '82 when the Clippers "were planning to move" from San Diego to L.A. (USA TODAY, 5/16).
LEGAL STANDING FOR STERLING? SI.com's Michael McCann wrote the letter "makes clear what many have anticipated: Donald Sterling will not go down without a fight and that he is taking active steps toward litigation." Blecher's letter "offers no ambiguity about Sterling's intentions." Blecher "does not explain how he intends to prove Sterling's racist remarks captured on the secret recording -- followed by Sterling's incendiary remarks to Anderson Cooper about Magic Johnson -- do not give rise to unethical conduct or positions adverse to the NBA." A due-process claim "may sound superficially reasonable," but the "problem for Sterling is that the NBA is a private association and is not required to provide due process rights." Any lawsuit by Sterling against the NBA "would face a daunting task, as Sterling contractually agreed to follow the NBA's system of justice." The "real weapon Sterling could obtain through a lawsuit is pretrial discovery." Blecher "is no stranger to expensive and lengthy litigation in sports," as he was a lead attorney for the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in "successful antitrust litigation against the NFL" (SI.com, 5/15). However, FS1 legal analyst Rob Becker said Sterling has a good case against the NBA because "his case is there's nothing in the NBA constitution that allows him to be knocked out for his statements." But Becker said the NBA states Sterling "violated a contractual obligation to the league and that has then hurt their bottomline. ... But he has not violated a contractual obligation. He simply made a statement to his mistress in his house. I do not believe there's any contract that that violates, so he's in a strong position" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 5/16).
BALLMER INTERESTED: Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said of his possible interest in bidding for the Clippers, should the NBA successfully force a sale, "I have nothing definitive to say. Am I right on top of what's going on there? Absolutely I am. I love basketball, and I'd love to participate at some point in the NBA. If the opportunity is outside of Seattle, so be it." He added, "If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles. ... Moving them anywhere else would be value destructive" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/16).
WILL SPONSORS RETURN? CSNBayArea.com's Andy Dolich said of advertisers returning to the Clippers, "I don't think they're going to wait too long, unless there's a circumstance that there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing and Sterling decides to use his nuclear option and call out every other owner and league management, 'I got some stuff guys.'" Dolich added, "But I don't think that's necessarily going to happen because there's money at play here, the juice that flows through the veins of pro-sports is green and that will solve this" ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 5/15).
ENOUGH ALREADY: ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen on Thursday both said that they "had tired of the Donald Sterling saga amid news he planned to sue the league." Van Gundy: "I can’t wait for the day when I don’t hear the name Sterling." Breen: "Agreed. He should go by the old Mark Twain phrase. It’s better to remain silent and appear ignorant than open your mouth and remove all doubt" (OKLAHOMAN, 5/16).
A major investment group trying to bring an NHL franchise to Seattle "emerged on Thursday with word it is working with the league, potential arena builder Chris Hansen and top municipal officials to get a deal done," according to Geoff Baker of the SEATTLE TIMES. Hudson Pacific Properties President, CEO & Chair Victor Coleman and hedge fund manager Jonathan Glaser are "heading the group, which has engaged in extensive dialogue with various entities since last year to land an NHL expansion franchise." Their "latest step was a meeting last week in Seattle with Mayor Ed Murray, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and others." Murray on Thursday said that he "let the group know that the city council is not prepared to rework a Memorandum of Understanding between the city, county and Hansen to build a Sodo arena for a hockey team ahead of an NBA franchise." Sources said that dialogue "remains ongoing with Hansen and that the NHL hasn’t given up on efforts to get a team in here ahead of the NBA." The Coleman-Glaser group is "being represented by Premier Ventures, a sports investment advisory group" founded by Alan Rothenberg and his associates, Jeff Marks and Randy Bernstein. Murray "feels the city should be studying alternatives to the Sodo plan" until Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer "figure out how to get an NBA franchise to Seattle." But Ballmer's NBA interests "might be leading him away from Seattle," as he said Thursday that he is "interested in bidding for the Clippers" (SEATTLE TIMES, 5/16). KING5.com's Chris Daniels noted the Coleman-led group is the "third known group interested in bringing the NHL to Seattle," but the "physical presence of the NHL’s top leaders, at a meeting in Seattle, likely solidifies their status as front runners." Coleman’s group is "believed to be interested only in a team in Seattle and not in Bellevue" (KING5.com, 5/15).
Knicks President Phil Jackson is "not yet thinking of going back to the bench" after Steve Kerr accepted the Warriors coaching position instead of the Knicks, according to sources cited by Marc Berman of the N.Y. POST. Jackson's health issues are "legitimate despite fiancée Jeanie Buss recently urging" him to "go back to the bench." Not only does Jackson "need a second knee replacement surgery eventually, but he’s dealt with prostate cancer and still takes medication for a heart ailment" (N.Y. POST, 5/16). But Warriors Advisor Jerry West, who as Lakers GM worked with Jackson from '99-01, said, "I think his greatest value would be down there on the bench, to be honest with you, because he’s had so much success and this is going to be a particularly difficult challenge (for the front office)." West added, "He's going to have to change a lot of things about the way he (does things) because of his role" as Knicks President (N.Y. POST, 5/16). In N.Y., Scott Cacciola cites a source as saying that Jackson is "considering at least three candidates," including former NBAer Luke Walton, Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis and Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. Jackson "appears to want someone who will operate as an extension of himself." Someone "young and fairly compliant would not hurt, either." Jackson, "after all, is as much coach emeritus as team president." While there are "few people, if any, who have accomplished more in the game" than Jackson, the "events of this week are a worthwhile reminder that whoever takes the coaching job will be acutely aware of the person looking over his shoulder." That situation is "not for everyone" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/16).
JACKSON'S NEXT MOVE: In N.Y., Frank Isola reports Thunder G Derek Fisher, who played under Jackson while with the Lakers, is "emerging as a leading candidate" for the job (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/16). ESPN.com's Stein & Shelburne cited sources as saying that the "most likely scenario" remains the Knicks "hiring a younger coach Jackson has worked with previously and can mentor." Sources said that in addition to Walton and Fisher, former Lakers G Tyronn Lue will "receive consideration." Sources also said that Jackson will explore whether the Nuggets "are in any way amenable" to releasing Shaw. Meanwhile, there have been "no indications to this point that Jackson, after missing out on Kerr, will consider hiring an established coach, despite the loud clamor from Knicks fans" to pursue fired Warriors coach Mark Jackson. ESPN analyst and former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy is "another theoretical candidate who would excite Knicks fans." But a source said that Jackson "is not worried about selling New Yorkers on his eventual hire" (ESPN.com, 5/15). Meanwhile, the N.Y. POST's Berman cites a source as saying that Knicks GM Steve Mills on Thursday spoke with Basketball HOFer Scottie Pippen "for about 15 minutes" at the draft combine in Chicago to gauge his "interest in potentially working for the organization in some capacity, possibly as an assistant coach" (N.Y. POST, 5/16).
When considering whether he wanted to become Knicks coach, the Warriors' Steve Kerr "became concerned about an inevitable clash" between Knicks Owner James Dolan and the "fiercely independent and occasionally iconoclastic" President Phil Jackson, according to Harvey Araton of the N.Y. TIMES. Kerr "worried about Dolan’s patience and his willingness to allow Jackson the freedom" to potentially let F Carmelo Anthony "leave as a free agent this summer should they fail to agree on how much of a hometown discount, if any, Anthony should accept to give Jackson salary-cap flexibility." The truth is the "loss of Kerr is softened by the presence of Jackson." The "cautionary part of the story for future Jackson recruits, however, is that while Kerr did not believe Dolan obstructed Jackson in the pursuit, Dolan had an impact on the decision by merely being who he is." Kerr had been "on the verge of accepting his first head coaching position" with the Knicks, but in late-game negotiations, he "played it calculatingly cool." Even to Jackson, a "renowned sideline stoic and the man considered to be his mentor, Kerr never showed his true hand." The "ability to misdirect should serve Kerr well as he begins the next phase of his professional life" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/16).
BIG, BAD JIMMY? In New Jersey, Steve Popper writes Kerr "heard the nightmarish stories, not just about Dolan, but about some of the corporate yes men and henchmen around him -- and heard that some weren’t thrilled to have Jackson attempting to flex his muscle inside the organization in areas that Dolan felt were beyond the basketball operations" (Bergen RECORD, 5/16). ESPN's Max Kellerman said Kerr choosing the Warriors over the Knicks is "not a knock" on Jackson but it is "yet another knock against that big dummy," Dolan ("SportsNation," ESPN2, 5/15). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "This is a humiliation for Phil Jackson. There is nobody in New York who thought that Phil Jackson could not get his first choice." Kornheiser said Kerr is a "smart guy and he did his homework that Jim Dolan is one of the worst owners in sports and he probably doesn’t believe that Jim Dolan will honor all of his commitments to Phil and so then Phil will leave and Steve Kerr will be with a bad team" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/15).
ALBERT'S ADVICE: In N.Y., Bob Raissman notes in the aftermath of Kerr's decision to join the Warriors, several reasons "were given as to why Kerr selected" the team that he did, such as: A five-year, $25M contract, a "talented roster, a better situation for his family (they live in San Diego) and Marv Albert telling him 'everybody hates being there (MSG).'" Albert on Thursday said, "I told him it never ends well there. Just look at recent history. It’s because of one man (Dolan). There is no happiness there. I say this with all kinds of friends I have there and at the MSG Network. Everybody hates being there. For coaches it’s very difficult" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/16).
RISING WARRIORS: Kerr on Thursday said the Warriors "are very forward-thinking." Kerr: "Their improvement on the court, as well as the business side -- season tickets, sponsorship, a TV deal -- has mirrored the success of the team. This is not just a young team that is exciting to watch, but it is an organization that is constantly moving forward" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/16). In San Jose, Tim Kawakami writes Warriors co-Owner Joe Lacob "went for pizzazz the last time (and got Mark Jackson) and he was going to make sure he got pizzazz this time." He is "going to win this press conference, because Kerr was the guy the Knicks wanted and the Warriors got him." The Warriors' front office "might have some reputation issues around the league after the Jackson fiasco, but it clearly doesn't have as many known problems as the Knicks." Lacob "beat out Larry Ellison for the Warriors and he just beat out Phil Jackson and the Knicks Industrial Complex for Kerr, the most pursued coaching commodity in the NBA" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 5/16).
ACE AGENT: In N.Y., Kevin Armstrong notes one season removed from his old job as Jets GM, Priority Sports & Entertainment's Mike Tannenbaum "is now an agent representing coaches in basketball and football, and he found gold beneath a far-off rock" for Kerr. Tannenbaum on Thursday "downplayed the idea of the Knicks’ dysfunction as a contributing factor" to Kerr's decision (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/16). Meanwhile, Warriors Advisor Jerry West said that execs and others in Chicago this week for the NBA Draft Combine have been giving Kerr's move "universally positive reviews." West: "It’s been very well received so far, I can tell you that" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 5/15).
When a team’s season ticket holders give up their season tickets, it is called “churn,’’ and churn “is a problem for the Jaguars and one of the reasons why they are lagging in local revenue,” according to Vito Stellino of the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. Only 75% of the Jaguars’ season-ticket holders from last year “have renewed.” That is an “increase from last year’s number” of 65.44% but “nowhere near” the 90% threshold they need to have sellouts. Jaguars President Mark Lamping said, “We’re in better shape than we were a year ago, but we’re not in as good a shape as we need to be a year from now. We have a long way to go.” Lamping added, “Just beating our heads against the wall and saying as soon as the team starting winning, everything will be fine, that’s very shortsighted. Yeah, the most important thing is winning but I wouldn’t put it [on] only one thing. There are a lot of other things that need to support that winning" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 5/15). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette writes Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley are “about as in lockstep” as any GM and head coach can possibly be. But even those most pessimistic about the Jaguars “have to give the team’s front-line leaders this much: [Jaguars Owner Shad Khan] and his organization are doing everything within reason to connect with season-ticketholders and casual fans.” SI’s Peter King said, “I see a team that has made a lot of progress toward respectability. … You can just tell Khan has given every business person and fan in Jacksonville every indication that he wants to make it work there.” Frenette writes between the $63M stadium upgrades, the player acquisitions, and how the Jaguars are trying to "fully engage fans, this franchise has synergy again” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 5/16).
The Nets "are still big winners on the bottom line" despite their playoff elimination, as the team's ticket prices "have risen significantly -- and fans paid them," according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com. In '11-12, the team's last year in New Jersey, the Nets were "27th in the league in ticket revenue." But a source said that this year, the Nets are "at No. 5." The team "sold 4,000 'All-Access' seats on three-year contracts when the Barclays Center opened last season" and has "already extended 1,500 of those contracts beyond the original end date." The team also has "virtually maxed out the prime revenue-generating suite areas." Only 2% of suites "were unsold for Nets games this season," down from 8% in the Nets' debut season in Barclays Center. In '11-12, the Nets "finished dead last in the league in merchandise sales," but they will "finish seventh this season" (ESPN.com, 5/15).