How will Adam Silver respond to Donald Sterling?


Eighty-five days.

That's the extent of the grace period before Adam Silver -- the NBA's rookie commissioner, who started Feb. 1 -- was plunged into his first crisis.

The scope and furor of the scandal brought on by the racist comments made allegedly by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is such that Silver is already facing what's being described as a defining moment for both his own tenure and the league.

What happens next?

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Once an investigation into the authenticity of the tapes implicating Sterling is completed, Silver says he'll use his "broad powers" to assess a "range of sanctions" against Sterling. After conversations with high-level league sources possessing knowledge of the issues Silver is considering, offers the following Q&A, examining where things stand as the Clippers return to Los Angeles for Tuesday's Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with theĀ  Golden State Warriors.

Q: What are Silver's specific and immediate options for sanctioning Sterling?

A: The NBA is not going to try to snatch Sterling's team away from him before Game 5. Not that quickly.

The league might never have the gumption to try that step, thanks to the various legal hurdles that stand in the way of the course that seething Clippers players and coaches are hoping for.

A lengthy suspension for Sterling is believed to be the ceiling on Silver's authority in the short term, and only when the NBA's official investigation is complete. That includes the complicated process of confirming that the male voice on the recordings obtained and distributed by TMZ is indeed Sterling's.

The NBA's bylaws are not made public, but sources with knowledge of the secret constitution say Silver does possess the equivalent of a "best interests of the game" clause he can invoke to suspend owners for detrimental conduct even though they theoretically employ him. Two NBA owners held in much higher regard than Sterling -- Minnesota's Glen Taylor (under-the-table contract with former No. 1 overall pick Joe Smith) and the Los Angeles Lakers' Jerry Buss (charged with driving under the influence) -- were suspended when David Stern was in charge.

Most insiders, as the weekend unfolded, thus expected Silver to pursue an indefinite suspension of Sterling from league activity that would also include a substantial fine of up to $1 million, with the corresponding hope that the pressure on and outrage toward Sterling that's piling up daily as a result of this scandal will ultimately convince him that selling the team is the only sensible recourse.

Of course, since there's no telling how long it might take the famously stubborn Sterling to reach that point, Silver has little alternative but to focus on the league's initial aim of removing the 80-year-old from the day-to-day operations of the Clippers. It's also believed any suspension would include Sterling's removal from the NBA's Board of Governors, ensuring that he has no say in league matters during such a ban.

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