By Ramona Shelburne
MANHATTAN BEACH — It will take more than one day for the dust from Tuesday’s disastrous turn of events to settle, but on the first day after life without Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, the Clippers began picking up the pieces and constructing plans to retool their team while everyone else around the country tried to dissect how it all came to pass in the first place.
“The bottom line for me is I’m hurt by it as well as our team. Our players feel the same way,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said of Brand’s departure Wednesday evening. “We felt like Elton was a great player and with the lineup we had, with getting Baron Davis we feel like that really would have put us in the hunt as far as the playoffs and going deep into the playoffs. I don’t know why he made the decision.
“I loved the guy. I don’t know what poisoned him against us, but up until the last text message I had from him, I did everything he asked me to do, period. I’m shocked by it because of how much I loved the guy as a player and how close I thought we were.”
Shooting guard Cuttino Mobley, now the longest-tenured Clipper after the defections of Brand and Maggette, said he was incredibly disappointed, but hopeful the club could still make noise in the Western Conference.
“It’s tough, because everything was right there for us, assuming the components (Brand and Baron Davis), and then something happened. I don’t even know what happened,” Mobley said Wednesday morning on his way into the team’s training facility. “You never really know. It’s all speculation. But we just have to work on what we still have here, you know.
“We got Baron Davis (who is expected to finalize his agreement in the next day or two), myself, Al Thornton, Chris Kaman. That’s super close to the Finals, that’s what I think.”
Still, Mobley seemed downcast less than 24 hours after learning that the two cornerstones of the franchise had bolted without compensation via free agency. Maggette’s departure was somewhat expected, but Brand’s came as a shock to the organization, which thought it had a verbal agreement with Brand on a five-year, $70 million contract offer last week, according to Dunleavy.
Instead, Brand listened to offers from other teams, then wanted the Clippers to raise their offer, which they did, first to $75 million, then to $81 million.
“I don’t know whether Elton ever got those (offers) or not,” Dunleavy said.
By day’s end Tuesday Brand was already in the City of Brotherly Love having dinner with the front office of his new team.
So what exactly happened in between?
Several versions of the story were presented Wednesday.
Brand and his agent told the assembled media in Philadelphia that the Clippers had “forced their hand” by making a take-it-or-leave-it offer, that they felt unloved and disrespected by the Clippers.
Said Brand: “(Philadelphia) gave everything they could. Even though it was less than (Golden State’s $90 million offer), they gave everything they could and that really made me say, `Hey, that’s the kind of people I want to work for and work with.’
“Another team, that I passed on, didn’t come close to that.”
Falk was even harsher.
“What you want when you’re a franchise player you want to feel that you’re wanted,” Falk said. “And I think it was very disturbing to feel that … it was basically accept it or don’t accept it.
“That’s a very difficult position to accept when you’re a player of Elton’s stature and you’ve done as much for the franchise as Elton has over the past seven years. I think that set in motion a chain of events that led us here today.”
Dunleavy seemed offended by those comments.
“Things were said that are totally not true, they’re used out of context as far as ultimatiums. The ultimatium that was made was whether to opt out or not opt out, not as far as a deal,” Dunleavy said.
“I can show text messages to Faulk and all those things, (that we) made a verbal deal. You don’t have to keep a verbal deal. It’s not binding. You can say, ‘You know what? I changed my mind I want to go to the East Coast because my wife’s family is there. Or it’s easier to make the playoffs. Or I can be an All-Star in the East as opposed to the West.’ But just say it we had a verbal deal and I just changed my mind.”
Mobley didn’t want to take sides, but revealed that he’d been worried about Brand’s status as soon as he opted out of his contract on June 30 and became an unrestricted free agent.
“I’ve been talking to Elton all along. Last week was the last time I talked to him, and he was scaring me the whole time,” Mobley said. “I don’t really know why he didn’t want to come back. He’s like my brother, so it’s tough.
“But whatever’s best for him, you know. He’s from New York, his wife is from Jersey. I don’t know.”
So what’s next for the Clippers?
Atlanta forward Josh Smith became the team’s first target. Smith was in Los Angeles Wednesday, shooting an adidas commercial, which had been previously scheduled.
He is a restricted free agent though, so Atlanta can match any offer sheet he signs. The Hawks have stated they intend to keep him, but a league source noted that if the competing offer was overwhelming, Atlanta would have a hard time doing that.
The Clippers are really only bidding against themselves then, as they’re the last team with a significant amount of salary cap space.
A message left Wednesday afternoon on the cellphone of Smith’s agent, Brian Dyke, wasn’t returned.
The other option is Charlotte’s Emeka Okafor. The Bobcats have previously offered him an extension in the neighborhood of $12 million a year and he passed, meaning that Okafor would be an expensive proposition for the Clippers.
Okafor’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
At the end of a long day, and after eight very long days that ended up in severely disappointing fashion, Dunleavy still found reason for optimism.
“We wish Elton nothing but the best,” he said. “The good news is it’s really hard to get a really good point guard in this league, and we just got one. He’s going to be all signed up with us. We have a lot of money. Our owner is 100 percent behind us and we have the ability to use that money and use it wisely. You never know how decisions work out. Something could work out in our favor.”
Staff Writer Elliott Teaford contributed to this report.