In the early afternoon hours of July 3, owner Donald Sterling called Los Angeles Clippers president Andy Roeser and informed him he had rescinded approval on moving Eric Bledsoe and acquiring free agent J.J. Redick in a sign-and-trade agreement. The three-team deal – delivered the owner's blessing only two days earlier – no longer interested Sterling.
Call it off, Sterling instructed Roeser, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
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It didn't matter the news had broken 24 hours earlier of the Clippers sending Bledsoe and Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns with the Suns' Jared Dudley and Milwaukee's Redick, on a four-year, $27 million contract, joining Los Angeles. It didn't matter the public had been praising Doc Rivers' first deal as the new senior vice president of basketball operations and coach, that Rivers and general manager Gary Sacks had given their word to teams, agents and players that this was a finalized agreement.
Soon, Roeser hurriedly delivered Sterling's declaration to Rivers, his ultimate "welcome-to-the-Clippers" moment.
This had been the kind of dysfunction that frightened prospective executives and coaches of Sterling, an eccentric, often illogical man long used to undermining and bullying staff that he had often kept on short, low-money contracts.
From there, over the Fourth of July holiday, a most unholy hell threatened to unleash should Sterling have been unrelenting in his reversal, sources described to Yahoo Sports. That bizarre turn of events had stayed within a tight circle of league executives, coaches and agents at the start of free agency in July.
After Sterling vaporized the deal on July 3, leaving chaos in his wake, the owner bolted for a beachfront holiday weekend in parts unknown. From the Suns' and Bucks' front offices to Redick's agent, Arn Tellem, to the credibility of the Clippers franchise itself, those involved understood that perhaps only Rivers had the freshly minted cachet and power of persuasion to undo this looming disaster with Sterling.
With a different clout, a different leverage, Rivers had come to the Clippers with uncommon stature. He cost Sterling a three-year, $21 million contract and a first-round compensatory draft pick that went to the Boston Celtics. Free agent Chris Paul guaranteed to ownership that the hiring of Rivers would result with his signing of a five-year extension to stay with the Clippers.
After GM Neil Olshey reshaped the franchise into a credible and contending entity before he left for the Portland Trail Blazers, Rivers had marched into Los Angeles as the front-office czar and championship coach to bring the Clippers the final distance to a title.
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The NBA's moratorium on free-agent signings had a week left until its end, meaning that no deal could be signed until July 11. Rivers had time to change Sterling's mind, but Redick and his representatives couldn't wait long. No one stood to lose more than Redick, one of the best players available on the market, a shooter perfect for the way that Rivers wanted to spread the floor.
Once a deal had been agreed upon and passed Sterling's initial approval, Redick had turned down comparable offers, including one from Minnesota, to join the Clippers. With Redick off the market, the Timberwolves reached agreement on a four-year, $27 million deal with Oklahoma City Thunder free agent Kevin Martin.
What weighed hardest on Rivers, league sources in touch with the Clippers said, was how hard he had recruited Redick, how intensely he had sold him on a different day with this franchise. And now, on Rivers' first major deal since coming from the Celtics, everything had blown up on him.
Along with his agents, Tellem and Greg Lawrence, Redick had gone to a recruiting dinner with Rivers and Sacks in Los Angeles on July 1, the first night of free agency. As expected, there was a complete connection with the coach.
In Redick's mind, he had the best of everything in the Clippers deal: nearly $7 million a year, a championship contender, a coach whom he believed could get the best out of him the way Stan Van Gundy had in Orlando.
Once Rivers had worked out an agreement with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and Milwaukee's John Hammond, who would be sent two second-round draft picks for facilitating the sign-and-trade, the deal was done on July 2.
For Rivers' system and culture, Redick and Dudley were ideal fits. They were twentysomething players replacing an aging, expensive Butler in the final year of his contract.
For the first few hours, these arguments were slow to register with Sterling, sources told Yahoo Sports. Looking back, only the owner knows why he attempted to blow the deal up. Yes, Sterling had been fond of Bledsoe. He was young, explosive, impactful on the Clippers' second unit. Some believed too, that Sterling stereotyped Redick and didn't want to pay $27 million for a bench player.
With Sterling, rational thought and debate aren't always part of the discussion. Whatever his reasons, everyone else awaited Rivers' conversations with Sterling. Rivers contract gave him ultimate management authority on deals, and several sources dealing with the Clippers say that Rivers was beyond embarrassed and humiliated. He feared the unraveling of the deal would cost him his credibility and paralyze him in future trade and negotiation talks, sources said.
Redick's representatives, led by the influential Tellem, were beyond livid. Accepting the Clippers' word, agreeing to terms, there was no reason they wouldn't expect this was a binding agreement. For Redick, there was nowhere left for him to get a comparable deal – never mind a contender, a city, where he wanted to play. For better or worse, he had to wait on Rivers and Sterling. There was no Plan B with which to rush and accept.
From the outside, there were those telling Rivers to unite with his superstar, Paul, and let Sterling understand they both could still walk out on him. Paul couldn't sign his five-year, $107 million contract until July 11, but sources insist that Rivers never brought Paul into the quagmire.
Rivers' job was to convince the owner – for a second time, in this instance – and there were those who believed a flat refusal on Sterling's behalf could've resulted with Rivers' resignation.
"It never got to that," one source told Yahoo Sports, "but it might have had Sterling not come around."
Only Rivers will ever know, because Sterling did change his mind and the deal was resuscitated within 72 hours of it falling apart. Downright disaster had been averted, and on the night of July 11, Clippers officials, Redick and his representatives came together to sign the contract papers in the lobby of a Los Angeles hotel.
Someone offered to make a toast, and finally it was over: No one could stop the deal. Once again, the organization had survived Donald Sterling. Against the odds, against history, against the franchise's lingering self-destructive bent, the Los Angeles Clippers could chase a championship.