There are two central questions to the Brand and Davis opt-outs:
First, how real are the rumors that both Brand and Davis will sign with the Clippers?
Second – if that happens, how good are the Clippers with the following eight players under contract?
Kelly Dwyer looks at both the speculation and a potential Clipper team with Brand and Davis. Nobody does better truth-squadding than KD, and his post is essential reading.
The Clippers do have cap space…Corey took the plunge, which leaves Los Angeles with about 29.6 million dollars in salary in place for next year, with the NBA's salary cap expected to be a shade over 58 million dollars in 2008-09.
Does all of that get earmarked for Brand and Davis? I'm not going to give you one of those "they're the Clippers" speeches, because even if you don't agree with the team's personnel moves, you can't call this outfit cheap anymore, not since it matched contract offers for Brand and Maggette back in 2003 and the flurry of signings/extensions in the years following. That said, filling out the rest of the cap with these two leaves Los Angeles with eight players under contract, and nothing more than a pretty solid team.
Even if Brand and Davis evenly split that nearly 30 million starting next year, both players will be playing for less money than they were due to make originally. Creating a sign and trade with Golden State doesn't make sense because there is nobody on that roster that the Warriors would want to give Baron Davis-sized money to, and that would leave Brand with the short end of the stick starting salary-wise.
Someone, if not both Davis and Brand, will be getting the stick in this situation. And for what? The Clippers would have those two; center Chris Kaman, emerging forward Al Thornton, rookie Eric Gordon, with veteran shooters Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley hanging around. That's a good team, even if Davis misses some time, but not an overwhelming team. The Clippers will have more cap space coming down the pike years later when Mobley and Thomas' contracts expire, but not a ton.
There are few in the Naçion who wouldn’t endorse a Davis signing, but it’s worth examining whether adding Davis truly elevates the Clippers to an upper-echelon team.
The Clippers won 47 games in 2005-2006 with the Brand-Cassell screen/roll as its offensive lynchpin. Even though Cassell had a resurgent effort that season, there’s little doubt that a healthy Baron Davis would represent a profound upgrade, particularly at the defensive end where Davis is strong and smart. With Maggette’s departure, Al Thornton would have to fill the vacuum on the wing. Though most Clippers fans have been itchy to consign the shooting guard slot to someone other than Cuttino Mobley, the Clips would need Cat’s presence on the perimeter to contain opposing scorers. Eric Gordon is scouted as a solid defensive player, but would you entrust him in his rookie season to guard Kobe Bryant in quarters one and four? Davis would slide over on occasion to cover shooting guards, but by and large that role will be left to Cat – particularly against small forwards because Al Thornton has proved to be nothing more than a mediocre defender.
That leaves as the unquantifiable variables in the equation – as usual – the development of Christopher Zane Kaman, as well as the health of the big scorers. Davis played in every Warriors’ game last season, but in the prior three seasons he missed 83 games. Elton’s Achilles tendon seems to be healing nicely, but whether EB can reach the heights of his 2006 game remain to be seen.
It’s obvious that the organization will extend healthy offers to both Brand and Davis. What’s unclear is what happens if either or both balk. As Dwyer points out, one of these two guys will be “getting the stick in this situation.” Will the prospect of kinda-sorta contending for a Top 4 seed might pale next to getting the max elsewhere? Is so, where do the Clippers go from there?
Could a Clippers team with both Elton Brand and Baron Davis chase the Lakers into the ides of March? Could sinking half of the team’s payroll into dual contracts for a couple of guys who will turn 30 this spring be ruinous going forward? All good questions, but ones whose worst-case scenarios shouldn’t preclude the Clippers from rolling the dice. Having tasted 47 wins, the Naçion will happily settle for pretty solid.