My most cynical sense is that Brand's initial posture -- "Show me you're serious about winning, and I'll stay" -- was based on his belief that the Clippers would never be able to attract the talent to demonstrate their seriousness, which, in turn, would give him cover to walk. But when the Clips landed Baron Davis, it left Brand in the awkward position of having to either live by his word -- and forfeit $20M -- or leave and break his tacit commitment.
Guess I was wrong about the $20M.
The reason this is so hard for Clipper fans is that Elton Brand came to fill an important function. Enough has been written about the subject, so I won't overstate how the Clippers occupy a unique place on the sports landscape. There are a few other tribes in fanhood who can appreciate the trial that accompanies the loyalty to a franchise like the Clippers. For a lot of people in the Naçion, Brand changed that. With Elton in his prime playing in a Clipper uniform, the psychic cost of being a Clipper fan became a lot more manageable.
I don't know how fair it is to judge Elton. Only a small collection of people know for certain what was said and not said in the confines of meetings, emails, formal and informal negotiations. Should a group of strangers' potential grief dictate a decision as important as where a person should live and whom he has to work for? That's asking a lot. Was Elton deceptive and insincere, or was his decision based on an honest desire to be close to family and work in an environment most to his liking? My guess is the truth -- as it usually does -- lies somewhere in between. But that doesn't make it any easier to take.
UPDATE: Terrific piece of sportswriting by Mark Heisler at the Los Angeles Times that sheds some light. The Nut:
The Clippers had a bigger problem than Brand's agent. It was Brand.
Once he opted out of his Clippers contract, everything changed. Whether that was Falk's influence or that Brand was impressed by the 76ers, he now seemed to be looking for a way to leave rather than a way to stay. Brand was slow in returning calls to Clippers officials. Whenever they made an offer, Falk would take it back to the 76ers.
For those who know Brand, questioning his sincerity is like refusing to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Nevertheless, there is another Brand who surfaces occasionally, the wily one who tells you what you want to hear. Clippers officials who revered him noted that if Brand wanted to be here, he was making them work awfully hard to make it happen.
Look at it from Brand's standpoint.
If his opt-out had come up two seasons ago, the year the Clippers reached the second round of the playoffs, there's no way he would have left.
If his opt-out had come last summer after they fell from 47-35 to 40-42, who knows what would have happened?
Brand's opt-out came up this summer after a season that was all but canceled by his injury and that of Shaun Livingston. Worse, with Coach Mike Dunleavy in Sterling's doghouse, their front office was paralyzed.
The Clippers will move quickly on Josh Smith, though Atlanta has the right to match any offer. Apart from Smith -- and his post game still has a way to go -- there aren't a lot of options down low on the free agent market.