- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Clippers commemorated the first full day of the 2008 free-agent season Tuesday by reaching a verbal agreement with homegrown point guard Baron Davis on a five-year contract worth an estimated $65 million, according to NBA front-office sources.
L.A.'s long-suffering other team is expected to reach a similar verbal agreement to re-sign face of the franchise Elton Brand as soon as Wednesday, setting up the Clippers for two major announcements on July 9, which is the first day NBA teams can officially complete free-agent signings and trades after a leaguewide moratorium on roster moves is lifted.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday night that Davis was already speaking about the Warriors in the past tense before attending the private Bay Area premiere of the documentary, "Made in America," which Davis' production company made about gang life in his native L.A.
"It's tough, but you have to do what's best," Davis said. "You have to do what's fair. I'm happy with where I'm going. A big reason is because of the impact and the things that I can do going forward. I knew I could have done them here and created all kinds of good things and positive things in the community, and ultimately, me going home helps me make an impact on young kids."
After Davis' unexpected decision to opt out of the final year of his contract Monday led to no new contract negotiations with the Golden State Warriors -- following weeks of fruitless talks in the former UCLA standout's attempt to secure an extension -- Davis' agent, Todd Ramasar, explained his client's decision by saying: "I'm sure a lot of people were surprised yesterday when Baron opted out, but it was done with the idea that the Warriors would come back with something else. We still expected a discussion for Baron to remain a Warrior.
"He had a great run with the Warriors. That had become home for him. ... [But] this is about having the best team in place, especially at this point in his career. Baron just wants to win. He has a chance to do something special with the Clippers and come back home."
He should be something special for the Clippers, as well, after their brief surge to prominence in the 2005-06 season -- falling one win short of the Western Conference finals -- and subsequent nosedive back to purgatory. Brand was limited to just eight games in 2007-08 because of an Achilles tear and hasn't been shy about how bad last season was, when the Clippers finished 23-59 and were subjected to considerable one-hit-wonder talk.
"It's been torture," Brand said in April.
Yet that's why Brand, after serious negotiations with the Clippers toward an extension of his own before free agency commenced Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., told his bosses that he would opt out of next season's $16.4 million salary and take a slight pay cut in a new deal if Clippers management would get him more established help.
With high-scoring forward Corey Maggette opting out, as well, and with Brand offering to re-sign at a discount, L.A. suddenly had more than $25 million next season to split on Brand and Davis. Signing Davis away from the Warriors should supply the Clippers with elite anchors in the backcourt and the front line, provided that Davis continues to stay healthy after playing all 82 games this past season and if Brand continues to heal.
The Clippers cannot re-sign Maggette after committing to Brand and Davis but can still flank its new star duo with center Chris Kaman, newly drafted Eric Gordon and Al Thornton, one of last season's top rookies. One Western Conference scout told ESPN.com in April that Brand and Kaman, when healthy, are the "best power forward/center combo in the NBA."
Maggette is drawing serious interest from San Antonio, Orlando and Boston already and could emerge as a top target of Philadelphia if the 76ers -- armed with more salary-cap space (an estimated $12.4 million) than any other team in the league besides Memphis -- are unable to sign restricted free-agent forward Josh Smith away from the Atlanta Hawks.
Yet Maggette could also wind up as a target for the Warriors, who without Davis' salary suddenly have the financial flexibility to re-sign prized youngsters Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins and make a splashy signing or two from the outside.
The Warriors have actually been operating as if they fully expected to lose Davis without compensation from the minute he decided to walk away from next season's $17.8 million to become an unrestricted free agent.
Golden State's immediate response was to make a lucrative offer to former Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas believed to be worth around $100 million over five seasons. But Arenas' return to the Washington Wizards is considered a virtual certainty around the league, as suggested by Antawn Jamison's comments Tuesday afternoon on ESPNEWS to discuss his own new contract with the Wizards for an estimated $50 million over the next four seasons.
"With Gilbert coming back and Gilbert being 100 percent healthy," Jamison said, "we are one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA."
One source said the Warriors then made a lucrative but unsuccessful free-agent pitch to Brand on Tuesday as opposed to resuming talks with Davis.
The Warriors have simply been reluctant all season to make a long-term financial commitment to Davis, who turned 29 in April and has a history of injury problems. Davis, meanwhile, has grown increasingly irritated with that stance, since he didn't miss a game this past season and averaged 21.8 points, 7.6 assists and 4.7 season for a team that narrowly missed the playoffs (but Golden State, with a record of 48-34, exceeded the win total of all but three teams in the Eastern Conference).
Davis was also the driving force on the 2006-07 Golden State team that halted a 12-season playoff drought and produced a historic first-round upset of the 67-win and top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the '07 playoffs. So his departure likely will come as a blow to freewheeling coach Don Nelson, who has relied on him so much. It could mirror Steve Nash's departure to Phoenix when Nelson was coaching the Mavericks, unless the Warriors can use their newfound cap flexibility to acquire a proven point guard. Golden State went into the offseason hoping to find a reliable backup for Davis and now have only Ellis as a reliable ballhandler.
Given the considerable depth in the West that only increases now with Davis moving into the Staples Center to push Bryant and the crosstown Lakers, it remains to be seen whether Golden State pursues veterans to replace its bearded leader or presses ahead with a growing youth movement. Davis leaves behind Golden State's other emotional leader -- forward Stephen Jackson -- but also a pack of an up-and-comers headlined by Ellis, Biedrins, Brandan Wright and last week's first-round pick, Anthony Randolph of LSU.
"I wanted to be here for a long time," Davis said of the Bay Area. "I still consider this home. The fans have done nothing but encourage, congratulate and support everything that I've ever done.
"I just took what was best for me."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne