Brand's departure strictly business
Elton Brand's decision to bolt Los Angeles for Philadelphia leaves the Clippers in a mess, and delivers another blow to their forlorn fan base.
One can only imagine the anger being vented on L.A. sports talk radio and Clippers fan blogs:
"Another Carlos Boozer!"
"We got Falked!"
At first glance, it does appear that Brand (and agent David Falk) pulled a fast one on the Clips. After all, when he opted out of the last year (and $16.4 million) of his contract to become a free agent, Brand stated publicly that he intended to re-sign with the Clippers. Falk seemed to indicate his client would even take less money if it meant playing for a winning situation, citing Brand's admiration for the unselfish, veteran-laden Celtics after having attended Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
When notoriously frugal Clippers owner Donald Sterling immediately responded by agreeing to sign Baron Davis to a five-year, $65 million deal, it seemed Brand's wishes had been met.
But in another cruel twist of fate for the Clippers, the Warriors ($90 million over five years) and Sixers ($82 million over five) swooped in and made Brand huge offers. Whether by luck or design, Falk's client suddenly had options. Brand chose Philadelphia, which gives him a chance to play for a playoff team closer to his New York roots.
Now, of course, some L.A. fans are branding Falk a Mata Hari -- and Brand a traitor.
First, let's address the Falk issue. Yes, he is an imperious agent who has been itching to regain his place as the NBA's reigning deal-maker. His fingerprints are all over this deal, with suggestions from some corners of the league that he engineered the whole thing as a form of payback to the Clippers for an old slight.
Some have suggested Falk did it because Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy went behind his back to try to contact Brand. Some have said it was payback for the Clippers' not having drafted Mike Bibby years ago. Or maybe Falk was just mad because L.A. didn't agree to extend Brand's contract last year when it had the chance.
But to blame Falk for Brand's departure is silly. Ultimately, Brand made the decision himself. He is a grown man. He knows what he is doing.
So if anybody burned the Clippers, it is Brand. But did he really do that?
Clippers fans will say yes, and they have reason to feel hurt. It is not so much that Brand abandoned their club (even many of their fans can understand that one); what's really bothersome to them is that Brand, the face of the franchise and a hard-working, gentlemanly type, seemed to go back on his word.
Brand's disloyalty is even being compared to that of Boozer, who famously reneged on a handshake deal with the Cavaliers in 2004 to sign a more lucrative deal with Utah. Boozer and Brand are both from Duke, giving the term Blue Devils new meaning to fans in Cleveland and L.A. and prompting one to wonder if they teach a class in this sort of thing at that fine institution.
But as tempting as it might be to bash Brand for this one, it really isn't fair either.
For one, Brand never said he would definitely re-sign with the Clippers. He merely said it was his intention to do so. Maybe he was being slightly disingenuous. It certainly appears now as if he wanted to get out of L.A. all along.
But the bottom line is that the Clippers didn't get it done. Brand gave seven long years of sweat and blood to the Clippers. It's hard to blame him for wanting to play for an up-and-coming team closer to home, especially when that team made it clear how much it wanted him (the 76ers were able to increase their offer to Brand by trading Rodney Carney and Calvin Booth to the Timberwolves).
The other thing to keep in mind before bashing Brand (or Boozer for that matter) is that, with few exceptions, NBA teams are not supposed to talk to free agents -- even their own -- before July 1. In other words, any "handshake" deal or prearranged talk between Brand or Falk with the Clippers about his playing alongside Davis technically would have been against NBA rules. As one veteran agent said Tuesday: "These teams know the rules. They're big boys. ... If they play that game, they shouldn't complain about it later if they get burned."
Who knows if the Clippers engaged in any such talks with Brand or Falk before the July 1 deadline. But if they did, then maybe they got what they deserved -- like the Timberwolves did in their under-the-table arrangement with Joe Smith several years ago. Or the Cavs apparently did with Boozer.
In the end, that might be the real lesson to be learned from this Brand saga.