- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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There was no definitive word during the NBA's quiet holiday weekend pinpointing precisely when Elton Brand will do what pretty much everyone around the league expects him to do and verbally commit to re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.
One source close to the process said Sunday night that Brand's decision should be public knowledge within the "next 24 to 48 hours." Another suggests that the Clippers have known since the middle of the past week that they would have to wait until after July 4 to confirm Brand's intentions.
Common sense, meanwhile, says this saga isn't likely to stray much beyond Wednesday, which is the first day NBA teams can officially announce signings and complete trades after the annual leaguewide moratorium on roster moves is lifted.
Teams will actually know Tuesday night, via official league memorandum, exactly what next season's salary cap will be, which will finally provide the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors (and possibly even the Philadelphia 76ers) with iron-clad figures to throw at the 29-year-old Brand.
Yet even if we're forced for now to rely on the best salary-cap estimates in circulation -- right around $59 million per team is the figure I keep hearing -- it becomes clearer why almost no one believes the Warriors can actually land Brand.
If next season's cap is indeed $59 million or thereabouts, Golden State will be able to offer Brand a five-year deal worth just over $95 million, according to multiple salary-cap experts ESPN.com has consulted.
But even if Brand is not interested in the extra sixth year that only the Clippers are allowed to offer him and insists on a five-year deal -- as my tireless colleague Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reports -- L.A. can still assemble a five-year deal worth $80-85 million and give Davis his estimated $65 million over five years.
Upping their reported five-year, $70 million offer to Brand depends on how many of the following free agents that the Clippers are willing to renounce in addition to possibly waiving Josh Powell: Corey Maggette, Shaun Livingston, Quinton Ross, Nick Fazekas, Marcus Williams, Paul Davis, Dan Dickau, Boniface N'Dong, James Singleton and the immortal Smush Parker.
We might eventually be looking at a difference of only $10 million or so between the two contracts, as opposed to the widespread assumption that the Warriors are offering some $20 million more than their Pacific Division co-tenants ... as long as Clippers owner Donald Sterling is willing to go to the five-year max.
No matter how jittery Clippers officials might be about Golden State's rich offer -- as we also keep hearing -- Sterling shouldn't have much to fret about if he's willing to nudge Brand's new deal past the $80 million plateau. I struggle to see a shortfall of $10 million or $12 million or anything in that ballpark convincing Brand to walk away from L.A. to join a Golden State team that suddenly has a major hole at point guard as well as a younger core than the team he'd be leaving.
It's especially hard to picture that scenario when you factor in Brand's well-chronicled love of Hollywood, his one-of-a-kind pride in being a Clipper and the fact that Brand, as ESPN.com reported last week, specifically told Clippers management during negotiations on a contract extension in June that Davis was the player he hoped they'd pursue if Davis became available in free agency.
There's something else only Sterling can offer Brand that could help the Clippers seal this deal.
A no-trade clause.
As we've covered often in this cyberspace, no-trade clauses in the NBA are extremely rare. But Brand meets all the prerequisites needed to get one and join fellow Staples Center resident Kobe Bryant on the short list of players known to possess specific no-trade language in their contracts.
At least eight seasons of NBA service time? Check.
At least four seasons with the same team? Check.
Unrestricted free agent with the right to negotiate a no-trade clause into a new contract with his old team? Check.
Most NBA stars in Brand's stratosphere sign their first big-money deals well before their eighth pro season and frequently sign extensions to those big contracts as opposed to going onto the open market and then re-signing with their current team as Bryant did in the summer of 2004. Therefore, many stars are never even eligible for a no-trade clause, because the NBA does not allow such clauses to be added to contracts that are merely extended.
P.S. -- We are obliged here to remind you that Devean George was taking advantage of a little-known league rule that prevents certain players with one-year contracts from being dealt without their permission -- as opposed to a no-trade clause in his contract -- to pull himself out of the Dallas Mavericks' trade with New Jersey in February for Jason Kidd. Bryant remains the only player in the league at present that is known to possess a no-trade clause.
Davis verbally committed to signing with the Clippers almost a week ago. One theory in circulation holds that Brand is intentionally taking so much time to follow suit to wash out any notion that he and Davis and the Clippers agreed to all of these machinations before the July 1 launch of free agency.
As in: How can anyone claim any sort of prearranged package deal if Brand is giving such deep thought to signing with the Warriors?
There haven't been any indications yet, for the record, that the league is planning any sort of formal investigation should Brand and Davis wind up as teammates in Clipperland. Nor is Golden State believed to be preparing any formal complaints.
I was reminded by one expert who is impartial (not a team executive, in other words) that such allegations are rather difficult to prove.
They're especially tough to prove when Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy was in New York at one minute past midnight Tuesday morning, courting Sacramento Kings guard Beno Udrih just as word began to spread that Davis had opted out of the final year of his Warriors contract.
Maggette knows his career with the Clippers is over unless Brand stuns the league and goes to Golden State. The high-scoring swingman has no shortage of suitors offering him a multi-year deal starting at the midlevel exception, which is expected to approach $6 million for next season, but Maggette hasn't abandoned hope that a team with salary-cap space (Philadelphia or Golden State) will come after him.
No. 1: Maggette and Sixers restricted free agent Andre Iguodala share the same representative, which could make negotiating deals for two players who play essentially the same position with one team rather complicated for agent Rob Pelinka.
No. 2: There's a strong sense that the Warriors would prefer to chase restricted free agents Josh Smith (Atlanta) and Luol Deng (Chicago) with the money they threw at Brand, although Maggette's status as an unrestricted free agent -- who thus doesn't have to sign an offer sheet that could tie up a team's money for seven days -- makes him easier to pursue.
It's believed that Maggette, without an offer from a team with cap room, favors San Antonio if he has to sign a contract starting at the midlevel. But he has also drawn similar interest from a variety of enticing contenders -- Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Orlando, New Orleans and Utah are the known suitors -- and the Lakers would be a dangerous suitor if they wanted to get involved given Maggette's close relationship with Kobe Bryant. The Lakers, though, would have to abandon any interest in resigning Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf to sign Maggette, and the team still favors retaining those two key reserves.
• Philadelphia is still waiting to find out whether it might even have more than its estimated $11 million in salary-cap space once the league officially announces next season's cap ceiling for all teams. All signs continue to point to the Sixers signing Smith to a lucrative offer sheet as early as Wednesday. The Atlanta Hawks would then have seven days to match and continue to insist privately that they'll match any offer Smith gets.
• It is widely presumed that Chicago will soon trade guard Kirk Hinrich now that the Bulls have drafted Derrick Rose with the No. 1 overall pick, with Golden State likewise assumed to be atop the list of Hinrich suitors given the void created in the Warriors' backcourt by Davis' departure. But NBA front-office sources insist that there is some sentiment in the Bulls' organization to keep Hinrich -- a favorite of Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf -- and play him at shooting guard alongside Rose while trying to move restricted free agent Ben Gordon in a sign-and-trade to fill another Chicago need.
• When Spain is suddenly the epicenter of the sporting universe -- Rafael Nadal wins Wimbledon just one week after his country's national soccer team wins Euro 2008 -- it only makes you ask again: How could Pau Gasol's Lakers look so punchless in the NBA Finals?
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
In his report from the free-agent front, Marc Stein explains how the Clippers might woo Elton Brand back.