By Ramona Shelburne
The final versions of how the last few days all went so wrong for the Clippers were still being written Thursday. Coach Mike Dunleavy came armed with text messages from Elton Brand stored in his phone to prove he’d been wronged. Brand’s agent, David Falk, staying true until the end to his version of events.
But at the end of what had turned into a very dark tunnel, there was a bright side for the Clippers. Waiting at the podium, in a crisp black suit, white canvas tennis shoes and a beaming, bright smile was two-time All-Star point guard Baron Davis, who was introduced back to the city that has always been his home at a press conference Thursday afternoon at Staples Center.
In the dream scenario; no, actually just the scenario Davis said Brand had called him with on June 30, after both had opted out of the final year of their contracts (Davis with the Warriors, Brand with the Clippers) Brand would’ve been alongside him on that podium too.
But Davis seemed happy enough to take the stage alone and embrace professionally the city he grew up in and really, has never left.
“For me this was never a money issue, it was about being rich in your heart,” said Davis, who grew up in Compton, prepped at Crossroads High in Santa Monica and went to college at UCLA.
“To come home, and to be in the place where your dream first started, 15 minutes away from where my grandfather (Luke Nicholson) built my first basketball court is a dream come true.”
As for all that other stuff, the competing versions of events, whether or not he and Brand had an “underground handshake” to both sign with the Clippers, Davis said he held no grudge.
“He (Brand) did a great job recruiting me. A great job. He got me here,” Davis said, laughing and with a huge grin on his face. “I’m not giving him like my agent fees or anything though.
“But there was never an underground handshake. We talked about it, yes. But we also talked about going to school together in college. Me and EB have been friends since the 10th grade. No matter what we say to each other, at the end of the day, you have to do what’s going to cement your future and something that you’re going to be comfortable with and that’s what he did.”
When exactly did Davis realize the dream scenario had begun to unravel?
“I had a feeling he was going to go when he stopped texting me and turned his phone off,” Davis said, laughing heartily once again.
At that point, he admitted that the thought did cross his mind that this trip down to L.A. might not be such a good idea after all. A source indicated that Golden State even came back with a counter offer on Wednesday, just to see if it could tempt him to come back.
“But my grandmother raised me to be committed to the things that I say,” he said. “And when I really looked at the opportunity here, I was like, `This is where I need to be.’ ”
The Clippers seemed ecstatic to have him. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy even called it the most significant free agent signing in club history, though team president Andy Roeser hinted that the club might not be done for the summer yet. Not with $12 million in salary cap space still available and a “blank check” from owner Donald Sterling to “do whatever is necessary” to put a great team together for next season.
“Baron plays every style,” Dunleavy said. “He’s a power point guard. He can push the ball, run the floor, he’s got a great post game. his versatility, his ability, there’s nothing on the court he can’t do.
“For some of our guys, it’ll be the first time they’ve played with a point guard who can really make plays and create easy buckets. ”
It would’ve been nice to pair him with Brand, of course. And it’s clear it’s going to take some of the Clippers brass a little while to get over losing their franchise power forward.
“I honestly don’t understand it,” Dunleavy said. “EB basically said, let’s get BD. So we made that run, we went after it, and Elton led the way with it by calling Baron and recruiting him. We were able to work out a deal and Elton was totally a part of that deal. We all thought it was done.
“There’s a contract that was marked up by David Falk, saying, `make these changes in language, this is what we want and if Baron Davis is good to go, we’re good to go.’ ”
Then, on the night of July 1st, Dunleavy said –and he pulled out his Blackberry with the text message dated at 7:53 p.m. to prove it — Brand sent him a text message asking him to make some changes to the language of that contract.
“I texted him back, and then, in the morning (and again, he showed us the time-stamp, this time 9:32 a.m. to prove it) I wrote him back saying, `I got it all done for you, language and ETO (early termination option). But that was the last I heard from him,” Dunleavy said.
“Then, it all changed and I don’t know the reason for it. David Falk had an incredible influence on him, to poison him in some way against us. We never even got a call to understand there even was a problem, or why there was a problem. … It was uncharacteristic of EB.”
Still, after all that, Dunleavy left the room Thursday smiling. Davis was on board and the Clippers still had $12 million in cap space to work with, and there’s every indication they will spend it.
Wednesday night, the team met with Atlanta forward Josh Smith and his agent Brian Dyke, though no offer was made to the restricted free agent. It’s likely the club will take the weekend to assess its options and decide its next move. After all, no other team has enough cap space to outbid the Clippers at this point.
“While, it’s going to be different than we anticipated, that’s the way it goes in the NBA. You have to adapt and watch, we will,” team president Andy Roeser said.
“The the silver lining is that when Elton opted out, it gave us the cap space we needed to go and get one of the top point guards in the league and that’s what we did with Baron Davis.
“We still have a little more work to do, we’re armed with $12 million in cap space and kind of a blank check commitment from our ownership to do what needs to be done to put the best team out there.”