Ballmer owns strong opin­ions too

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - bill.plaschke@latimes.com Twit­ter: @billplaschke

One month af­ter slink­ing out of Sta­ples Cen­ter amid one of the worst col­lapses in Los An­ge­les pro­fes­sional sports history, the Clip­pers marched boldly back across the land­scape Thurs­day, rolling out a new logo plas­tered on T-shirts de­liv­ered to cheer­ing fans in a city­wide car­a­van.

But be­fore the party started, owner Steve Ballmer sat in a small room at L.A. Live and re­mem­bered how their last party ended, with the Clip­pers los­ing a 19-point lead to the Hous­ton Rock­ets in Game 6 of the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals and

then be­ing dom­i­nated in Game 7 to be­come only the ninth team in NBA history to blow a three-games-to-one lead and lose a play­off se­ries.

“I was up­set, I was sad,” Ballmer said. “We were on kind of a fairy-tale ride.”

From his wild in­tro­duc­tory pep rally in Au­gust to the roars that ac­com­pa­nied his cheer­lead­ing-bear pres­ence through­out the win­ter, Ballmer’s first sea­son with his $2bil­lion in­vest­ment was in­deed a mag­i­cal ride that ended abruptly in tat­ters, leav­ing him with noth­ing but strong opin­ions on how to fix it. In a re­fresh­ingly hon­est and di­rect con­ver­sa­tion with The Times on Thurs­day morn­ing, Ballmer cri­tiqued and chal­lenged and laid out those opin­ions in words as strong as any new logo.

He be­lieves the Clip­pers should win a cham­pi­onship if they keep their Big Three in­tact. He be­lieves Doc Rivers should evolve as pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball oper­a­tions with more ex­pe­ri­ence and lead­er­ship. He be­lieves Clip­pers fans need to get louder. He’s not thrilled with be­ing the third ten­ant in Sta­ples Cen­ter. The Clip­pers’ name is not go­ing to change. And, oh yeah, for the last time, he said he’d be crazy to move this team to Seat­tle.

“I don’t think just run­ning around like a cow­boy in a Western town shoot­ing peo­ple is go­ing to get you to the con­fer­ence fi­nals,” Ballmer said. “We be­lieve we are very close. The key for us is not to blow things up.”

Start with the ros­ter. Ballmer re­it­er­ated that the Clip­pers hope to re-sign po­ten­tial free DeAn­dre Jor­dan — “We love D.J.” — and that with Chris Paul and Blake Grif­fin, they have a ti­tle-wor­thy three­some.

“You have ar­guably three of the best 20 to 25 guys in the NBA,” Ballmer said. “You should be able to win it with three of the best 20 to 25 guys in the NBA. I don’t think you’ll find another team with three of the best 20 to 25 guys in the NBA.”

While Ballmer seem­ingly wasn’t try­ing to place the pres­sure on Rivers, the op­tics of this state­ment are clear. Rivers is widely praised as a coach, yet he has been crit­i­cized for his role as the bas­ket­ball oper­a­tions boss, par­tic­u­larly this sea­son af­ter he built a weak Clip­pers bench. Ballmer heartily en­dorses Rivers as the face of his fran­chise, but noted that Rivers is still grow­ing as an ex­ec­u­tive and will hope­fully ben­e­fit from his first sum­mer of own­er­ship sta­bil­ity.

“Doc has done a good job as [bas­ket­ball oper­a­tions pres­i­dent], but Doc is also a guy who is con­stantly grow­ing,” Ballmer said. “He’s newer as [an ex­ec­u­tive] than as a coach. He’s in a steep learn­ing curve.”

Ballmer noted that in the two pre­vi­ous sum­mers, Rivers made per­son­nel de­ci­sions with­out the ben­e­fit of own­er­ship in­put. Ballmer said his pres­ence this sum­mer could help lend per­spec­tive to prospec­tive moves. He said he con­tin­ues to sup­port the idea of one man run­ning the en­tire team, from ros­ter to floor, be­cause his neigh­bor Pete Car­roll has ex­pe­ri­enced suc­cess in that role with the Seat­tle Seahawks.

“I like be­ing able to have di­rect con­ver­sa­tions with Doc,” Ballmer said. “This is the first year we re­ally have a chance to see what Doc has got as [an ex­ec­u­tive]. I con­sider this his real com­ing-out party as an ex­ec­u­tive.”

It should be in­ter­est­ing. By trad­ing for gifted yet ec­cen­tric guard Lance Stephen­son, who was in­tro­duced to Clip­pers fans Thurs­day, Rivers is un­afraid to start that party by invit­ing a po­ten­tially dis­rup­tive crasher.

Ballmer is also hop­ing this sea­son is a com­ing-out party for Clip­pers fans. Even though they are the loud­est bas­ket­ball fans in Los An­ge­les, Ballmer said they need to turn it up a notch, and he hopes to tai­lor the game pro­duc­tion to en­cour­age that.

“To me, it’s how do we get the place more bois­ter­ous, more sup­port­ive, more en­gaged?” he said.

When asked if the roar­ing Clip­per Na­tion ac­tu­ally needs to be louder, he said, “Ab­so­lutely. It’s not like other are­nas, it’s not as noisy as other are­nas. For Los An­ge­les, it’s noisy, but who cares? We’re com­pet­ing against ev­ery­one in the league. We’ve got to do some stuff to get our folks mov­ing some.”

As for Sta­ples Cen­ter, Ballmer is proud that his team has made it a Clip­pers home on game nights, com­plete with cov­er­ing up the Lak­ers’ ban­ners, but he said it’s only nat­u­ral to want more pri­or­ity, which could even­tu­ally mean build­ing his own arena.

“We’re third guy in, we have third choice in dates,” he said. “If you are a good busi­ness­man, you don’t come to the end of your lease and say, ‘I have no op­tions, land­lord, please take me to the wood­shed and beat me.’ We’ll have op­tions.”

Mean­while, even though the logo has changed — “It was im­por­tant for us to say this re­ally is a new era for the Clip­pers, we’re turn­ing the page,” he said — the name isn’t go­ing any­where.

“Some­body once told me no­body know what ‘Clip­pers’ means, but now ev­ery­body knows what ‘Clip­pers’ means,” he said. “It’s the guys who stood up to tough sit­u­a­tions and fought through it. It’s not ships, it’s peo­ple who stand up to ad­ver­sity.”

Ballmer also con­firmed what he has been stat­ing since he bought the team, that the Clip­pers will make their stand in Los An­ge­les, not in his Seat­tle home, and he cited an easily un­der­stand­able rea­son.

“This team, out­side of Los An­ge­les, isn’t worth what I paid for it,” Ballmer said. “It’s worth what I paid for it be­cause it is in this mar­ket with its fi­nan­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties and buyer base. I’m not mov­ing this team. I’m happy to be play­ing in Los An­ge­les, and when it comes time to re­new our lease, we’ll ei­ther re­new here or we’ll build here.”

With Ballmer, they are cer­tainly build­ing and chang­ing, and even if you hate the new logo — it does look like a weird ver­sion of the loser Chicago Cubs logo — one has to ad­mire that he’s un­afraid of mak­ing chal­lenges and ef­fect­ing change. And re­ally, the bot­tom line is that the Clip­pers can change their logo ev­ery sea­son and no­body is re­ally go­ing to no­tice un­til that logo is on uni­forms that are stained with sweat in the mid­dle of June.

Ballmer clearly un­der­stands that bot­tom line. Even the “re­lent­less” motto that seem­ingly ac­com­pa­nied ev­ery Clip­pers move this sea­son could be benched for some­thing else even more … re­lent­less?

“Last year it was ‘re­lent­less,’ it could be some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Ballmer said. “Mar­ket­ing slo­gans come and go.”

How about “No more ex­cuses”? The owner would seem to agree.

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

STEVE BALLMER hands out cup­cakes down­town in con­nec­tion with Clip­pers’ roll­out of new logo. He thinks team should win ti­tle if it keeps its Big Three in­tact.

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