The Clippers notified Elton Brand's agent Thursday that they intended to retain the power forward's services by matching the six-year, $82.2-million offer sheet he signed with the Miami Heat.
"We told them that before they got an offer sheet," Clipper Executive Vice President Andy Roeser said. "That won't be a surprise when it happens.
"We've said all along that we intend to match the offer on Elton and we shared that with them again today."
The Clippers have 15 days from Wednesday, the day Brand signed the Heat's offer, to meet the terms. Brand, who averaged 19.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game in the first four years of his career, is a restricted free agent this summer.
"If they match, I'm going to be excited ... either way," Brand said by telephone from Chicago, where he is working out in the off-season. "I'll be ready to go in a new direction with the Clippers, start winning some games and get into the playoffs.
"If they're going to match, that's saying they're in the direction of trying to get players."
It will require an unprecedented financial expenditure from Clipper owner Donald Sterling just to keep some semblance of the 2002-03 roster intact. The Utah Jazz made a six-year, $42-million offer to guard Corey Maggette, and the Denver Nuggets made a six-year, $51-million offer to point guard Andre Miller.
The Clippers have indicated that they will match Utah's offer to Maggette but let Miller go.
The Clippers already lost center Michael Olowokandi, an unrestricted free agent who agreed to a three-year, $16.2-million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Olowokandi's agent, Bill Duffy, tried to broker sign-and-trade deals with Minnesota and Memphis that would get more money for Olowokandi and not leave the Clippers empty-handed, but nothing worked out for all parties.
New Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy called Brand on Thursday and repeated the team's interest in retaining him.
"I told him it's all my fault," Dunleavy joked. "I said, 'I signed on to coach you, that's the way it's going to be.'
"I think it's the start of a good thing. Elton's a good guy, he's going to work hard, it's going to be a good fit."
Even if the Clippers retain Brand, Maggette and Lamar Odom -- a restricted free agent who has not made much noise in the marketplace so far this summer -- they will need to replace their starting center and point guard from last season.
With Brand, the Clippers are prepared to make their largest financial commitment ever despite the imposing terms of the contract and some acerbic words from David Falk, Brand's agent.
Falk said Wednesday that when negotiations for an extension broke off last summer, Sterling told him he would either offer Brand the maximum amount another team could give him or let him go. Falk later told the Clippers that if they did not make a maximum offer by the first day of the negotiating period on July 1 that Brand would go elsewhere.
The Clippers made an initial offer of $65 million over five years on July 1 and later increased it to $78 million over six -- the most they could offer, based on the leaguewide belief that the salary cap was $42 million. When the official salary cap figure was released by the NBA on Wednesday, the cap number came in surprisingly higher: $43.8 million. That allowed the Heat to come up with an additional $4 million to offer Brand over the life of the contract -- the terms the Clippers must match now.
The Heat's offer is front-loaded, with 70% of the annual salary payable up front. In addition it includes a kicker that drives up the salary by 15% if Brand is traded.
Falk insists that this is not simply a financial matter, and that it's also about goodwill. He said he had an understanding with Sterling that if the Clippers did not offer Brand a maximum contract by the end of the first day of the negotiating period, that they would allow Brand to leave.
"It's not about money," Falk said Thursday. "It's about respect and timing."
The Clippers could have had Brand for $70 million to $75 million (depending on the source) last year. But their offer was in the low $60-million range.
Now Brand will make $82 million somewhere -- apparently in Los Angeles.
"I honestly think that if they do match, and other players are here, it can turn around," Brand said. "The problem was, players weren't getting paid, so they were leaving or trying to do their things to get paid by other teams.
"If we're there, then it's on us. It's in L.A., it's a great city, we've got great fans. We've just got to get over those old problems. We should be able to do that."
Dunleavy said: "The first piece was getting Elton. Me coming here, that was part of the deal. It never crossed my mind that it wouldn't happen. It will happen in a pretty timely fashion.
"I don't think we will [wait the full 15 days]. I think it will happen pretty quickly."