Elton Brand and Corey Maggette have both opted out of the final year of their Clipper contracts, becoming unrestricted free agents. Neither move was much of a surprise. In a move that was a significant surprise, Baron Davis opted out of the final year of his contract with the Warriors. So it's all so simple right? The Clippers use the cap space cleared up with Brand and Maggette off the books to sign Davis, and then they re-sign Brand, and suddenly they're a force in the West again.
Not so fast. A team's free agents count against the salary cap until the team renounces them or they sign elsewhere. Brand counts at the maximum salary (his prior figure of $16M give or take). Maggette counts at 150% of his prior salary - so that's another $10.5M. Even Livingston counts at 150% ($6.6M) until they renounce him. So as of right now, the Clippers are not under the salary cap - they are over it. When J.A. Adande mentions freeing $10M in cap space, that would involve renouncing both Maggette and Livingston. When Jonathon Abrams mentions being $26M under the salary cap, that's a different story They could only be there if they renounced all of their free agents.
So why not just renounce them? Well, if you renounce them, you no longer have Bird rights to re-sign them. So in theory the Clippers could renounce all three and split $26M between Brand and Davis. They could still re-sign Livingston for some portion of the MLE or another exception. But at that point Maggette is in the same position with the Clippers as he is with most of the rest of the league - they can't offer more than the MLE (and only a portion of that if they hope to sign anyone else), so you can forget about using him to get players in sign and trade deals.
What's interesting is that Falk and Brand are referencing cap flexibility and Boston where "a few stars get together and agree to have a communal effort" so the implication is that they're willing to work out a deal for less than the maximum. With Baron opting out, not to mention BD's burgeoning movie producer career and LA ties, it gets pretty interesting.
If the Clippers really were to offer Baron a starting salary of $12M or $13M with Brand's blessing, it would immediately become his best free agent offer. Only Memphis can offer more than that, and they're not going to do it - not with 5 point guards on the roster already.
The other way to go would be to renounce no one, preserving the Bird rights to re-sign them, and then try to work a sign and trade for Davis. The Clippers could pretty easily match Baron's asking price in outgoing contracts (Maggette plus Mobley would do it), but surely Golden State hopes to secure a better offer than that. How many first round picks would the Clippers throw in to make this happen? 1? 2? 3?
The summer just got really interesting.
UPDATE: ESPN's Marc Stein is writing what we're all thinking.
the move suddenly creates the very real possibility that the former UCLA star could wind up alongside Brand in a homecoming with the Clippers.
NBA front-office sources said early Tuesday that the Clippers would be making an immediate run at trying to pair Davis with Brand.