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Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

You can't put the blame for this at the feet of Sterling

July 09, 2008|Mark Heisler

Gee, why do these things keep happening to the Clippers?

I know what you're thinking, but they didn't lose Elton Brand because owner Donald T. Sterling couldn't be reached or wouldn't come up with the money.

It looks as if they lost Brand because he wanted out, which came as a shock since he always seemed true Clippers red, white and blue.

On the other hand, Brand was a Clipper for seven seasons so even if it was the best time in their history, think how many bad days he saw as opposed to good days.

Losing Corey Maggette the same day makes it a bigger story, but the Clippers knew he was gone a long time ago and had no intention of keeping him.

With Brand, on the other hand, they had every intention of keeping him and were stunned to find out he was gone.

How it got to that point is a mystery. Brand had helped talk Baron Davis into signing with the Clippers, saying he would take less money to make it happen.

Technically, Brand took a bigger offer from the 76ers, $82 million to the Clippers' $75 million. However, with Sterling giving his basketball people a blank check, the Clippers were going to dump enough players to get to $81 million.

That offer was never relayed to Brand. The Clippers say at the end, agent David Falk stopped returning their calls.

Whether the imperious Falk, who once represented Michael Jordan, did this for revenge or just because it felt good is a mystery. He did once vow to get the Clippers for not taking his client, Mike Bibby, with the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft.

Instead, the Clippers took Michael Olowokandi so maybe Falk had a point.

Falk was reportedly actually going around saying, "Revenge on the Clippers." However, Falk said that about every team in the NBA so that probably wasn't it.

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.

Needing a point guard, they passed on a chance to get Beno Udrih for $300,000.

Then they passed up a trade which would have brought Memphis' Mike Miller for expiring contracts and their No. 1 pick, with Dunleavy unable even to make his case to Sterling.

You may remember Brand tried to get out of here before, in 2003 when he signed a Miami offer sheet. The Clippers had the right to match and although Brand reportedly begged Sterling not to match the offer, he did.

Sentenced to five years here, Brand never uttered a word of complaint and, lo and behold, three years later, found himself in the playoffs with the Clippers.

The Brand Era started in 2001, in the Bad Old Days when the Clippers never came up with the money and lost all their free agents.

In Brand's time, things changed for the better -- which is how he got his big contract along with the ones the Clippers gave Maggette, Chris Kaman, Cuttino Mobley, Tim Thomas and Davis.

With the departure of their low-post threat and the arrival of Davis with Al Thornton and Eric Gordon, the Clippers now want to turn it up but how well that works remains to be seen.

Sterling is over his snit at Dunleavy but where they go from here, to a new tomorrow or an all-too-familiar yesterday, remains to be seen too. Wherever it is, it'll be without Elton Brand.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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