The first time I saw Baron Davis play basketball was at the Beverly Hills Tournament. Throughout the game he penetrated inside the opponent’s defense, going wherever he wanted as he demonstrated a skill only elite point guards have.
From there he passed to teammates who were in good position to score, or he finished the play himself. I had seen enough games to know the young man was special.
How special did the kid playing for Crossroads School of Santa Monica that day turn out to be? After excelling at UCLA and becoming a two-time NBA all-star, Davis was in a position to leave $17.8 million for next season on the table as he opted out of the final year of his deal with the Golden State Warriors. Then he signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Clippers.
“It’s the start of the Baron Davis era,” said Clippers’ coach Mike Dunleavy.
“It was time to come home,” said Davis.
The years have brought changes. Strength and court savvy continue to be two of Davis’ assets. But he’s become a reliable outside shooter and he’s gained the confidence of teammates in pro ball, just as he did in high school.
However, his return to Los Angeles isn’t without controversy. Davis is in the midst of the biggest off-season story in the NBA, whether he and Elton Brand agreed to become Clipper teammates before Brand decided to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers instead.
The development is shocking because Brand, over many years, developed a reputation for being a man of class, a man who would be unlikely to back out of an agreement.
And because Brand allegedly told the Clippers he would accept less money for next season so they’d have more to offer a high-profile free agent such as Davis.
Brand opted out of his contract, making him a free agent but gave the impression he was doing it to help the Clippers out.
But he left, and now it appears Davis won’t have enough help to lift the Clippers from their doldrums.
“I talked to Elton and tried to say this is the best place for you, we can do great things,” Davis said at the press conference announcing his Clipper deal.
But he chose otherwise and we can’t be mad at him for that.
There’s plenty of blame to go around.
Brand leaves here as a villain who is certain to be booed heavily when he opposes the Clippers at Staples Center. Despite the Clippers’ history of unrest, they didn’t deserve this.
Or did they? They had a chance to offer Brand the maximum allowed but didn’t. They could have shown Brand he had no reason to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, they came in low, then scrambled to match what both Philadelphia and Golden State were offering. Take that chance and you’re liable to lose out.
Finally, in any negotiation with an NBA free agent the agent’s role merits inspection.
In this case the agent was David Falk, a man who’s had numerous confrontational cases in the past.
Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy cites Falk as the problem. Dunleavy says he has text messages from Brand saying he was staying but believes Falk tried to drive up the price into unreasonable territory.
Who do you believe? Does it matter now?
In any case, Davis is home. He brings nine-year NBA credentials of 17.1 points and 7.2 assists per game.
“Being back in Los Angeles is a dream come true,” he says.
It’s unlikely a Clippers’ team without Brand and Corey Maggette, who left for Golden State, can make the playoffs or cut deeply into the Lakers’ domination of Los Angeles.
But at least they’ve got their point guard now.