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The Baron Davis Era

That certainly happened fast.

Less than 24 hours after a surprise decision in which he opted out of the final year of his contract with the Golden State Warriors, Baron Davis has reached a verbal agreement for a deal with the Clippers.  A scenario that I would have dismissed as pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking yesterday now appears to be a reality. 

Marc Stein is reporting that Davis' deal will be in the 5/$65M range.  I think we should all bow down to Citizen John R, who 7 hours ago came up with a scenario in which Baron would be paid 63.4 over 5 years.  Not too shabby.

And while this Newsday story wonders aloud about the fate of Elton Brand, that's just silly.  Davis didn't sign without Elton Brand being a part of the team, and the Clippers didn't offer Davis some of Brand's money without Brand being a part of the discussion.  Davis and Brand are a package, and they split the available money, and everyone is in the loop.  Promise.  Again, for a best guess look at John R's FanPost.  He was really close on the Baron money, which means he's really close on the Elton money.  Of course no one knows what the cap number is until next week, so the final amounts may shift around a bit.

The Clippers lineup, as of today, is as follows:

PG - Baron Davis, Brevin Knight
SG - Cat Mobley, Eric Gordon
SF - Al Thornton, Marcus Williams
PF - Elton Brand, Tim Thomas, Nick Fazekas
C - Chris Kaman, DeAndre Jordan

Is Cat Mobley the weak link?  Consider this - there were many games last season when Cat Mobley was the Clippers' number one option on offense.  In the presumptive starting lineup, he's their fifth option.  For all of his shortcomings, Cat Mobley is a VERY strong fifth scoring option.  (By the way, if the Knicks want Mobley for Jamal Crawford to free up cap space in 2010 as reported by Jonathan Abrams in the LA Times, I'd do that deal.  Crawford is younger then Mobley, not to mention that Mobley just had the worst year of his career and turns 33 soon.  I'd put the 28 year old Crawford with the 29 year old Davis and Brand and go for it.)

Williams and Fazekas are of course not yet signed.  And there are still as many as four roster spots available.  Josh Powell would seem to be a likely returnee - his deal was not fully guaranteed, but nor have the Clippers waived him yet.  Or Paul Davis may end up being the backup center if Jordan is not ready.  (I think Davis/Powell is an either or with Jordan and Fazekas both likely to be on the team.)  And they'll definitely need a third string point guard (and maybe a fourth) given the injury histories of Davis and Knight. 

Corey Maggette is gone for sure.  The Clippers now don't even have the MLE to spend on him, nor can they participate in any sign and trade.  So for Corey, it's 'hope Philly makes an offer' or 'pick the best contenders MLE'.  Not a nightmare scenario I guess, but how many guys take a pay cut the season after they average 22?

Shaun Livingston is the next key question.  As I said before, I think a multi year minimum deal is not out of the question for Shaun.  You make years 2 and beyond player options, giving him the ability to opt out and sign for more at any time that his market value increases.  The best case scenario for the Clippers then would probably be that he plays well, opts out, and earns a big raise from the Clippers.  Everybody wins.  It remains to be seen what other teams will offer Shaun.  If they can retain him, this really does become a dream scenario.  A healthy Livingston would immediately be the backup 1 and the backup 3, not to mention getting minutes at the 2 in the future when Cat is gone.

How good can this Clippers team be?  Well, pretty good.  Consider that they were one game away from the Western Conference Finals a little over two years ago.  Comparing this team to that team, you'd have to say that Baron Davis is a MAJOR upgrade over Sam Cassell, while Kaman 2.0 is a MAJOR upgrade over the former Kaman.  Livingston and Maggette were certainly big parts of that team, and they may be missed.  But Al Thornton goes a LONG way to making up for the loss of Maggette, while Livingston may yet be back.  Even if he's not, the point guard position is still in significantly better shape if Davis stays healthy.

Do Brand, Davis and Kaman constitute a Clippers 'Big 3' a la the Celtics?  It's interesting that although many reports are ignoring Kaman, it's pretty easy to make the case that he had a better season last year (aside from the injuries) than Ray Allen.  So the three isn't at issue, as far as I'm concerned.  It's how 'big' are the 'big two'?  Whether Brand can play at KG levels (he has come closer than any other player in the league in the past) remains to be seen.  And while Davis has been as good as Paul Pierce at times in his career, no one (not even Kobe Bryant) was better than Pierce last month.  Pierce and Garnett elevated their games when they teamed up - can this group do the same?

Kelly Dwyer was less than effusive in his assessment of the potential of this team earlier today.  I have to disagree.  Davis and Brand put up all star numbers year in and year out - they actually make the all star team infrequently because they're not be on great teams, but that's about to change.  Likewise Chris Kaman put up All Star center averages last season.  Can he stay healthy?  Can he do it for an entire season?  Can he do it with Brand on the court?  I think he can - he made a believer out of me.  So it's not a stretch to say that the Clippers now have three potential all stars at three key positions.  With a first team all rookie selection at the small forward, and a solid veteran at the shooting guard, I'd rate the Clippers 4th and 5th starters above those of either Boston or the Lakers.  Throw in exciting rookies coming off the bench, and sign a couple of cheap veterans, and this team could be really, really good. 

Davis is the perfect TALENT to add to the group the Clippers already had.  He plays the position where they were thin, and he will take all the big shots in all the big games.  Whether he will be happy with coach MDsr is another story.  If Baron left Oakland because he clashed with the free-wheeling Nelson, one can only imagine what could happen here.  Still, MDsr gave Cassell a LOT of rope - he seems to have different rules for vets and stars than for other players.  He'll probably give Baron more latitude than he would give to Livingston.  Let's hope anyway.

In the karma department, I can't help but think about the various things that have happened over the last two seasons that have brought us here.  If the Clippers don't miss the playoffs in 2007, they probably don't get Thornton in the draft.  If Livingston doesn't blow out his knee, they would have already extended him or certainly they would have made the QO, tying up a lot more money, probably scuttling the Davis offer.  If the team isn't wracked by injuries last season, they don't get Gordon in the draft.  For once in the history of the franchise, it seems that the Clippers' various misfortunes have been re-paid by the universe in one great good fortune.

And make no mistake, this is a great good fortune.  Consider this:  if they don't opt out, Elton Brand and Baron Davis are making $34M combined next season.  Instead, they're making $26M combined - a 24% discount - to play for the Clippers.  Or how about this factoid: last week, Brand and Maggette were on the Clippers' books for $23.5M.  Today, we're looking at Brand and Davis for 5% more.  I love Maggette and think he's underrated.  But Baron Davis is much more important to this team's chances, not to mention a much bigger draw.

Amazingly, the West just keeps getting better.  Sure, the Warriors drop off the radar a little.  But the Lakers and Jazz and Hornets are just as young and talented as they were last season.  The Spurs remain the Spurs.  I am willing to say that the sun is setting on the Mavs and the window has closed on the Suns.  But the Blazers should make a HUGE jump this season as well.  In short, the Clippers, with their best team EVER, are not even locks to get out of the first round of the playoffs.  Then again, if a Celtic-like team spirit overtakes them, they would appear to have the talent to compete with anyone in the league.  That's right.  Anyone in the league.

Let the Baron Davis Era begin.