Ball Don't Lie - NBA

It was an absolute shock to find out that Baron Davis opted out of the final year of his contract with the Golden State Warriors last night, as the sheer ramifications of what that opt-out entailed are just mind-blowing. 

By now you likely know the particulars, but let's ‘ave another go. Davis was due to make 17.8 million bucks next season, but faced with a stalemate with the Warriors over a contract extension, he's now left all of that on the table. Davis was thought to have turned Golden State's fortunes around upon arriving in February of 2005, but he hasn't had the rosiest time overall with the team - missing the playoffs two out of three years (2005-06 saw an out of shape Davis shoot the team into oblivion) with Baron being benched by returning coach Don Nelson in the second half of a pivotal loss to the Suns last spring. 

There are very few teams with cap space enough to sign Davis outright to a salary that befits his talents (top five-ish point guard, injury history, maybe about 12-15 million a year), but even a team with zero dollars in the ledger earmarked for next season couldn't give Davis what he was to make next season. The most any non-Warrior outfit can give BD in a non sign-and-trade situation would start at 17.2 million next season.

Immediately, whispers started swirling about a potential hook-up with the Los Angeles Clippers, as the team is not looking to rebuild, Davis is from El Lay, he's a known dabbler in movie production, and went to school at UCLA. That's the selling point. The real reason most assumed that Davis already has a destination in mind came basically because, in opting out, Davis did something you just don't do unless you know you're about to recoup your money.

The Clippers do have cap space, Shaun Livingston has already been renounced (pity; understandable but sad), Elton Brand also opted out of the final year of his contract (leaving 16 million on the table, swearing up and down that he'll return to Los Angeles), and Corey Maggette refused to put a kink in the Clipper plans by opting out of the final year (seven million) of his moderately-sized deal.

The Maggette situation looms large, because though the swingman is rumored to be on his way to Philadelphia for a substantial raise, there's a very real possibility that had the dominoes fallen in another direction, Maggette could have missed out on the 76er signing, and found himself with no team to get a raise from. That could still happen, actually. Even with that in place, 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.

It looks as if Davis and Brand are trying to have their cake and eat it too, frankly, pulling in as much money as legally possible while still talking up a Celtics-style melding of the beleaguered superstars. The problem there is that the Celtics didn't sign any of their stars outright, but traded big salary for big salary while pairing the two new stars with incumbent Paul Pierce. The Clippers would only be adding one new star, really, in Davis.

If the two really were after winning above all, they would work some sign-and-trade magic with the Miami Heat, or slum for a year or two for a smaller contract with a team that is already close to grabbing the ring. Davis and Brand, apparently, aren't interested in that. They want to get paid. And if they get paid and top out with a 45-win team, that's cool with them. Apparently. I don't blame them for wanting to work for what the market will provide, but I don't want to hear any talk of sacrifice or going after the ring above all.

This is all conjecture, though, and the real story is this opt out for Davis. Handing 17.8 million dollars back to Golden State is just about as damning as it gets for the Warriors, and unless BD heads to Miami in some deal for Shawn Marion (great, another small/power forward tweener for the W's) and his expiring deal, there really isn't much Golden State can take from this. They'll have cap space and more wiggle room to keep Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis, but that's a small consolation.

This is definitely one for the time capsule, however. No matter what happens with Davis this summer, I'm quite interested in seeing (in, say, three years time) just how happy BD is after trying to balance the winning/money making/coach relationship triptych with this shockingly swift move.

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