Are the Los Angeles Clippers Better Off Having Lost Elton Brand?
Let's wind the clocks back exactly 15 months to the day, when it was first reported that power forward Elton Brand would sign a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers rather than the Los Angeles Clippers.
The news of Brand's spurning of the Clips was stunning, especially considering he had opted out of the final year of his contract (worth $16.4 million) so that the Clippers could use the money to help build a better team around him.
Then, on the first day possible, they did exactly what he had wanted them to do in signing Davis (five years, $65 million).
Pairing Brand and Davis would give the Clippers one of the more potent inside-outside duos the league had to offer.
Combine them with young players like incoming rookie Eric Gordon, second-year forward Al Thornton, and serviceable center Chris Kaman, and the "other" Los Angeles team is suddenly looking quite formidable.
However, Brand stunningly elected to ink a five-year deal with Philadelphia worth around $80 million on July 10, 2008.
It was rumored that the Clippers were offering a contract very similar to the one he ultimately signed with Philadelphia.
Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy blamed Brand's agent, David Falk, for Brand backing out on his word and moving east.
Dunleavy claims that, for whatever reason, Falk has something against the Clippers, and was quietly urging Brand to move elsewhere.
Falk then accused Dunleavy of illegally contacting Brand without going through the agent first, an apparent violation of the league's collective bargaining agreement.
On the court, each player's first season with his respective new team was anything but overwhelming.
Davis, playing in his hometown of Los Angeles for the first time since his brief college stint with UCLA, played in just 65 games last season, averaging about 15 points and eight assists per game for a Clippers team that went just 19-63.
Brand's season was cut very short by a severe shoulder injury he suffered last December, when he was flipped onto his shoulder after being undercut by Milwaukee's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
Even though his Sixers went on to make the playoffs, Brand played in just 29 games, which means he's played in just 37 NBA games in the past two seasons combined.
Brand's departure caused Dunleavy (also the Clippers' GM) to make a horrid move in the middle of the season, acquiring power forward Zach Randolph from the Knicks to help fill the vacancy left by Brand only months before.
While Randolph is productive on paper (he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds last season), he's a terrible locker room influence, a black hole in the post, and has a ridiculous contract paying him $16 million this coming season and $17 million in 2010-11.
Why is Brand's departure now a good thing for the Clippers?
Their 19-63 record in 2008-09 was terrible enough to land them the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, which they used to take Oklahoma's Blake Griffin.
Griffin, 20, has great size for a power forward at 6'10", has insane athletic ability, and should be a force in the paint for the next decade and more.
He's strong, is a phenomenal rebounder, and his athleticism should help him become a decent shot-blocker at the NBA level.
So, instead of having a perhaps-decent playoff-caliber team with a semi-injury-prone guy over 30 entering the second year of his lucrative contract, the Clippers now have a talented, younger roster featuring a 20-year-old physical beast with perhaps more upside than any big man in the league today.
In the end, getting Randolph was a great move for Dunleavy and his Clippers.
What better way to tank a team than to bring in Zach Randolph?
After landing Griffin in the draft, Dunleavy was able to pawn Randolph and his contract off onto the NBA's worst executive, Memphis' Chris Wallace.
Los Angeles acquired the expiring contract of Quentin Richardson in return, and then turned around and shipped him off to Minnesota in exchange for Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair, and Mark Madsen.
Telfair is likely to be the backup point guard to Davis, and Smith gives the Clippers more beef up front.
Madsen was waived in August.
So, will the Clippers be contenders this season?
It's unlikely that the Clippers will be able to make much noise this season in the loaded Western Conference, but things are certainly looking up.
If Griffin turns into the player most think he will be, the Clippers will have a dangerous post threat for years.
They'll be pairing him with perhaps the league's most-underrated rookie from last season, shooting guard Eric Gordon.
The sharpshooting Gordon averaged 16 points per game last season while shooting a stellar 39 percent from beyond-the-arc.
Unfortunately, nobody heard about him because he was playing on a 19-win team.
So, instead of having an inside-out combo of two 30-plus year-old guys earning a combined $145 million, Los Angeles now has an inside-out combo of two 20-year-old guys earning about $120 million less.
Reportedly, Davis has come into training camp in the best physical shape he's been in in years and has vowed not to duplicate last year's horrible showing.
These Clippers likely won't be a playoff team this year, but if they can keep their core together, they will certainly be a team to be reckoned with down the road.
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