Commentary

Adding Davis makes the Clippers instantly relevant

Originally Published: July 2, 2008
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Baron DavisNoel Vasquez/Getty ImagesIn every regard, Baron Davis will become a player in his hometown by joining the Clippers.

Make a quick playlist of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy", Chris Brown's "Run It" and Lil Jon's "Snap Yo Fingers" on the iPod. For the Clippers it's a return to the glory year.

Baron Davis going to the Clippers is kind of like Kevin Garnett going to the Celtics -- only without the promise of a championship to add to a storied franchise. Scale it down a bit. At least the Clippers can dream of reaching the second round of the playoffs again, just like they did in 2006 when they crested to the team's high-water mark since moving to Los Angeles. It's all relative. Or, as far as this team is considered, it's all about relevance.

Bringing in Davis and re-signing Elton Brand would make the Clippers matter again. There won't be a rush of people trading in their Lakers car flags for Clippers bumper stickers, but at least the Clippers wouldn't drop off the Los Angeles sports landscape. The L.A. Times might even keep a full-time beat writer on the team, an assignment the newspaper has considered scrapping. (The Orange County Register has already disposed of the Clippers beat.) The Clippers always fall between the cracks. They're more Nicky Hilton than Paris. I did an L.A. radio show Tuesday, and when they opened the phones to discuss the possibility of Davis going to the Clippers, the first caller wanted to talk about Davis going to the Lakers.

Now a verbal agreement between the Clippers and Davis is in place, and getting Baron to put script letters on the line would represent the biggest free-agent signing in franchise history. No, it's not as significant as when Shaquille O'Neal went to the Lakers or Steve Nash came to the Suns. Again, relativity.

Davis would instantly become the best point guard the team has ever had, bringing star power to a position that has been filled with a string of 10-day-contract guys over the years. He would solidify a starting lineup that would include Brand at power forward, Chris Kaman at center, Al Thornton at small forward and Cuttino Mobley at shooting guard, with first-round pick Eric Gordon providing backcourt depth.

That's not enough to put them ahead of the Lakers in the city or in the West. Not the Spurs or the Hornets or the Jazz or the Suns, either. Truth is they'll be hard-pressed to beat out the Suns, the Rockets and the on-the-rise Trail Blazers for a postseason spot. Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets couldn't win a playoff game last season. Davis and the Golden State Warriors couldn't even get in the party. The West is tough like that.

People say Davis is coming only because he wants to see and be seen in Hollywood. So? Isn't that how it's supposed to work when you have a team in a big market? Isn't this the same thought process that has everyone speculating about what part of New York City LeBron James will call home when he opts out in 2010?

It's even tougher than when the Clippers played Game 7 of the conference semifinals in Phoenix two years ago. Thanks to an offseason trade for Sam Cassell and the signing of Cuttino Mobley, that team won 47 regular-season games. Last season 47 victories didn't even qualify for the playoffs in the West.

The important thing is that the Clippers are trying, that owner Donald Sterling didn't get discouraged when he spent big to keep that 2006 team intact only to watch the Clippers return to their losing, injury-filled ways. I think the Lakers' success affected him, the way the entire city seemed to be buoyed when they made it to the NBA Finals. I ran into him outside the celebrity hideaway Chairman's Room at Staples Center after the Lakers eliminated the Spurs in Game 5 of the conference finals, and he said he was happy for the Lakers.

"I wish I could get here," he said.

(I presumed he meant the Finals, not the Chairman's Room, because I know people who can get him passes for that.)

Davis doesn't get the Clippers to the NBA Finals. But at least they're moving in the right direction.

People say Davis is coming only because he wants to see and be seen in Hollywood. So? Isn't that how it's supposed to work when you have a team in a big market? Isn't this the same thought process that has everyone speculating about what part of New York City LeBron James will call home when he opts out in 2010?

I always wondered why, when people talked about the benefits Los Angeles can offer free agents, the discussion never seemed to apply to the Clippers. They play in L.A., too. Finally, someone seems to have realized that.

People in Los Angeles don't get caught up in the why. It doesn't bother producers that the models they date are with them only for the money. Clippers fans won't mind if Davis and Brand want to be Clippers because they can make good money playing basketball and boost their movie mogul aspirations.

Davis and Brand are trying to get as many good things as possible, making compromises along the way. Both players could have gotten closer to a championship by taking the midlevel exception to play elsewhere. They'll eventually get more money with the Clippers. They'll win a fair share of games, as well.

Already, speculation is running around the league that the Clippers must have had an under-the-table deal with Davis in place for him to opt out from Golden State and come to an agreement with the Clippers so quickly. But tampering allegations are hard to prove, and the Clippers already have a good alibi in place since coach Mike Dunleavy met with point guard Beno Udrih soon after the free-agent market's opening bell.

A well-orchestrated plan to bend the rules to get a star who wanted to be a Clipper? For the Clippers, that would count as progress.

Remember, it's all relative.

J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.

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