LOS ANGELES – It’s not uncommon to hear Los Angeles Clippers fans heckle Baron Davis(notes). Of late, however, the jeers directed at the team’s struggling point guard are coming from a far more surprising source: The man paying Davis, Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Sterling has expressed his displeasure about Davis’ play by taunting him from his courtside seat at Clippers’ home games, several sources told Yahoo! Sports. Among Sterling’s verbal barbs:
– “Why are you in the game?”
– “Why did you take that shot?”
– “You’re out of shape!”
While Sterling has also taunted other Clippers players since the middle of last season, none have received it worse than Davis, the sources said. Davis has missed 14 of the team’s 25 games this season and is averaging 7.4 points while making a team-high $13 million. Including this season, Davis has three years and nearly $42 million left on his contract.
“There’s nothing I can say,” Davis said of Sterling’s taunts. “I have no comment on that. You just get to this point where it’s a fight every day. It’s a fight. You’re fighting unnecessary battles. I’m fighting unnecessary battles.
“It’s frustrating because I know and my teammates know I’m capable of getting it done, even dudes on the other team. It’s frustrating.”
Sterling had little comment when asked about his behavior.
“When they make shots, it’s great,” Sterling said during halftime of the Clippers’ loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday. “When they don’t, we’re all disappointed.”
When asked for more explanation, Sterling shrugged and politely ended the questioning.
Sources said Sterling is upset with Davis for not living up to the five-year, $65 million contract he signed with the Clippers in the summer of 2008. Clippers center Chris Kaman(notes) and former Clippers Bobby Brown(notes) and Mardy Collins(notes) have also been berated by Sterling during games, a source said. The players typically heard Sterling during free throws or when they were within earshot during a stoppage in play.
While taunting players during games is somewhat new for Sterling, the owner has previously criticized his team. Two seasons ago, he made a rare visit to the locker room and launched into a tirade, calling former Clippers forward Al Thornton(notes) selfish. Sterling also said during the much-publicized incident that he was willing to trade every player on the team.
Sterling “started getting a lot more vocal during the second half of last season,” one team source said. “He never had done that before at games. Baron’s his pet project. He absolutely hates Baron. He wants to get his money back.”
When asked his thoughts on Davis, Sterling said: “What can I say? I wish the best for all my players.”
While Davis wouldn’t confirm Sterling’s criticism, those close to the point guard said it’s taking a strong toll on him. One member of the organization who wished to remain anonymous expressed disappointment in Sterling’s lack of support for Davis and the players.
“The owner of the team has to be the main supporter of the team and the staff,” the source said. “And when the owner of the team isn’t supporting the players, it doesn’t give you confidence to play the way you want to. This guy is supposed to be on your side, not against you. You want someone who can support what you’re doing and be on your side.”
Davis was heralded as one of the franchise’s greatest acquisitions ever when the Clippers signed him in July 2008. The two-time All-Star was coming off a season in which he averaged 21.8 points, 7.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds with the Golden State Warriors. By signing the Los Angeles native, the Clippers believed they added a franchise superstar worth the price of admission.
Davis has since failed to live up to the mammoth expectations. He averaged less than 16 points his first two seasons in L.A. and didn’t see eye to eye with former coach Mike Dunleavy. Davis’ conditioning has been questioned – including by new coach Vinny Del Negro at the start of this season – and his health has been a constant concern. Davis, however, said he’s now down to 208 pounds and blames his struggles on legitimate injuries.
The Clippers won just 19 games in Davis’ first season, 29 in his second and now own an NBA-worst 5-20 record. The 12-year veteran also entered Sunday averaging less than 25 minutes a game, his fewest since his rookie season with the Charlotte Hornets. Davis describes this season as “subpar” and the “most challenging” of his career.
“When I came here it was like a culture shock as far as basketball expectations,” Davis said. “It was just different. Those first two years were the most frustrating years I’ve ever had playing in this league. This year I was fired up about playing with these young guys. It wasn’t the lack of conditioning. It was an injury, serious [hamstring] injury I’ve been fighting ever since.
“I’m going to continue to fight because I believe in everyone in this locker room. I know this is something that we’ll be able to overcome. We’re growing. I’m growing as a person more so than anything. We’re just getting better, and I can’t wait for the day when this thing turns around.”
While the Clippers have other talented players like forward Blake Griffin(notes), Eric Gordon(notes) and center Chris Kaman, much of the blame for the team’s failures has fallen on Davis. Davis understands why.
“You look at it and say, ‘Why isn’t he doing the same things that he was doing at Golden State? Why isn’t he doing the same thing he was doing before? What’s different about his game?’ ” Davis said. “I just got to be a little more free when I’m out there. I’m just trying too hard. So far, it’s just not really getting that flow. I got to get in that flow. The flow is messed up, man.”
Said Del Negro: “There’s always pressure. But it’s how much you put on yourself, how well you're prepared and what you are giving to your team and organization. It’s no different from any player that has been an All-Star and that is in that situation. I know he is working hard right now to get back to a level he knows can help us win. It hasn’t worked out as smoothly as anyone would have liked.”
Davis and the Clippers might both benefit from parting ways, but his large contract, injuries and substandard production make finding a suitable trade difficult. Davis said neither he nor his agent have asked the team for a trade. He also thinks he can still be successful playing for the Clippers.
“I believe in the talent we have on this team,” Davis said. “I believe in the pieces, and I know I’m an integral part of it. I just believe this could be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the league if we can develop that style we all want to play.”
The Clippers were down a point in the final seconds against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday when the play broke down and the ball ended up in Davis’ hands. With Sterling watching from his usual courtside seat, Davis missed a fall-away shot at the buzzer to give the Clippers their 19th loss of the season.
“It was a shot I needed,” Davis said later. “I needed that to get me over the hump.”
Fortunately for Davis, he wasn’t within earshot of Sterling on this night.