"Maybe he will be managed out over time, but it could be abrupt," the source said. "The alleged statements are indefensible from the standpoint of the commissioner, players, owners and many fans. Sterling may seek to negotiate, but he has little or no leverage because he will become a pariah.
"Some people are arguing that his statements were private and that he was set up by his girlfriend. This may be true, but it misses the point that the NBA can't and won't associate with a known racist."
That would be the same NBA, of course, that has always championed its own diversity, and in February welcomed back Brooklyn's Jason Collins, the first active openly gay player in the history of North America's four major team sports.
Not up for argument is the fact the league office regards the investigation as absolutely key, because any punishment Silver delivers could later become an element of a legal or civil case involving the league. It could also wind up as part of the civil case alleging that Stiviano embezzled more than $1.8 million.
Q: If Sterling is suspended, who runs the Clippers?
A: The Clippers' plan in the event of Sterling's death, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, has been for Sterling's wife, Rochelle, to take over as majority owner.
Rochelle -- or Shelly, as she's more commonly known -- is a regular at Clippers games and well-known and liked among other owners. She even accompanied her husband to the April 17 Board of Governors meeting in New York, according to sources.
Donald Sterling's son-in-law, Eric Miller, meanwhile, has been working in the team's front offices for the past few years and, as ESPN.com reported early last season, is being groomed to be the franchise's day-to-day voice on ownership matters. An accountant by trade, Miller currently holds the title of Clippers director of basketball administration, and he works closely with team vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks.
The problem with all of the above is that coach Doc Rivers and his players, sources close to the situation say, want and expect more drastic change than that. Such is the anger within the Clippers' locker room, according to sources, that the response to Sterling maintaining ownership for any length of time -- even from a distance -- is sure to be negative, to put it charitably.
Will players start asking out of the team? Would Rivers, who's finishing up his maiden season as the Clippers' coach and team president at an annual salary of $7 million, consent to come back next season under those conditions?
"Don't know yet," Rivers told reporters Sunday. "I'm just going to leave it at that."
Rochelle Sterling sat courtside at the Clippers-Warriors game Sunday in Oakland, Calif., and declined to be interviewed on camera. She told ESPN/ABC sideline reporter Lisa Salters that she does not believe in or condone the comments heard on the recordings, but it must be noted that Rochelle Sterling was also named in the housing discrimination lawsuit that Donald Sterling ultimately settled with the Department of Justice for nearly $3 million in 2009.
Q. Why do we keep hearing that the NBA can't force Sterling to sell the team like it did with Cleveland's Ted Stepien in the 1980s?
A: This is a different time. Franchise values have skyrocketed to levels they didn't dare dream of in Stepien's time.