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Merry Christmas, Coach

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The coffers have been opened up again. Mike Dunleavy will be sticking around as coach of the Clippers for another four years.

Though rumors of an extension have been circulating for weeks, the Clips and their general finally inked a contract which is said to exceed $22 million over four years, making him one of the highest paid coaches in the NBA.

Owner Donald Sterling has once again exhibited a willingness to spend to generate a winning product. Sterling has historically cycled through coaches like Paris Hilton cycles through boyfriends, paying cheaply for washouts from other teams or inexperienced hires. Prior to Dunleavy’s hire before the 2003-04 season, the Clippers had had 12 coaches (including interim) in 19 seasons. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Dunleavy will begin next season as the longest-tenured coach in franchise history; the immortal Bill Fitch is the only previous Clipper coach even to last four seasons.

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Critics have railed on some of Dunleavy's in-game strategies and substitution patterns, highlighted during last year's Phoenix series when he put untested rookie Daniel Ewing in to guard Raja Bell, who subsequently drained a game tying three-pointer at the end of the first overtime in a critical game 5 (which of course the Clips ended up losing). They've also noted his inability to get talented teams over the hump, such as the end-of-Showtime Lakers in '91 (losing in the finals to the Bulls) or the combustible Blazers during the late '90s (who can forget the epic Game 7 loss to the Lakers in the '00 Western Finals).

While those criticisms have validity, they also ignore what Dunleavy has brought to the team: stability, credibility, and proven leadership. He's provided an anchor to develop young players, a respected voice to connect with veterans, and a presence to attract free agents that historically never came to the team. Sam Cassell would not be wearing the red, white, and blue if Dunleavy weren't on the bench.

Is he the right guy for the job and is he worthy of the hefty raise he's receiving? Only time will tell. He certainly has to bear some of the responsibility for this season's struggles so far. But he also deserves some of the credit for raising the level of expectations in Clipper Nation to the point where a 10-11 start is considered a significant disappointment.

Now coach, if you need any advisers to help kick-start the team, I wouldn't ask for but a fraction of those $22 million George Washingtons...

AP photo by Kevork Djansezian