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Who Was the Man Behind the Curtain?

This didn't happen by accident. 

For one thing, within an hour of Baron Davis' surprise decision to opt out of the final year of his contract, suspiciously accurate speculation was circulating that he might land in LA with the Clippers.  For another, Elton Brand and David Falk dropped pretty big hints in their official statements about EB's opt out about 'stars getting together' and 'providing the Clippers with flexibility.'

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News is wondering the same thing, and he thinks it has Falk's fingerprints.

So who was it?  Was it the Clippers?  The Davis Camp?  Or the Brand camp?

If it was someone in the Clippers camp tampering with Baron Davis, it was a brilliant maneuver.  It's against league rules to talk to another team's player, but the only way the plan would work was if Brand and Davis both opted out.  Until the last minute, it appeared highly unlikely that Davis would do so.  If Elgin Baylor or MDsr dreamed this up, they played it beautifully.  Not only did they get the necessary Maggette, Brand and Davis opt outs to go down, but they also set up an alibi - MDsr in New York talking to a DIFFERENT point guard.  A deal with Beno Udrih would have completely scuttled any chance at Baron.  Udrih falls through (darn the luck!), Baron falls into their laps, the NBA is none the wiser - the perfect crime.  I don't think that's how it happened.

So was it someone in Baron's camp?  Maybe.  He was the one with a destination in mind.  Did he or agent Todd Ramasar target a return to LA, crunch some numbers on the Clippers roster, and make a quick call to Brand and Falk?  Maybe. 

But the trail really does lead to Brand and/or Falk.  For one thing, Brand's decision to take less money is really the catalyst for the entire deal.  Sure Baron is taking less money than he was going to make in the final year of his deal - but he's getting a lot MORE money than the Dubs were offering in an extension.  Baron just came off a great year and a completely healthy year - if the Warriors were lowballing him in 2008, there was no reason to think things were going to change significantly in 2009.  He has an injury history and a history of wearing out welcomes - a maximum offer wasn't likely from another team, and it certainly wasn't coming from the Warriors.  Brand on the other hand could certainly have commanded a maximum contract, if not this season then next season.  Sure, he might have gotten hurt again, or he might have had a down year.  But all indications are that Miami would have given him a max contract now in a sign-and-trade, that the Clippers were willing to max him out to keep him, and that he could have played another season and then gotten max money.  Baron left 'old contract' money on the table.  Elton is leaving 'new contract' money on the table. 

Given that, it's hard to imagine either the Davis camp ('Hey Elton, would you take a pay cut for me?') or the Clippers ('Hey Elton, would you take a pay cut for Baron?') broaching the subject.  No, it would most logically be Brand (or his agent) hatching this plan.  That also fits with Davis' sudden reversal regarding the opt out.  With Philly and Memphis uninterested in his services, he was looking at the MLE if he opted out - he really had no serious options until this Clippers idea was born.  Hence the last minute decision.

And as with the Clippers, if it was Brand and Falk, they put up a little smoke screen to throw people off.  Brand speaks specifically about Udrih in the immediately aftermath of the opt out.  Brilliant.

Some are saying that the Clippers had to have colluded - that Baron would not have risked that much money without discussing a specific offer with the team in advance.  I disagree.  Bill Plaschke and others are praising Donald Sterling for making this deal happen, but come on.  If Brand and Falk and Davis had the idea in place on Monday, there was no reason to check with the Clippers to see if they were on board.  It's about the biggest no brainer of all time.  "Let me get this straight.  Elton Brand and Baron Davis want to take a 25% pay cut and sign with the Clippers long term, for the same annual amount give or take as we were already paying Brand and Corey Maggette.  I'll have to think about that."  The other key elements of the plan (Maggette's opt out, no QO for Livingston) were expected for weeks.  Brand and Falk could clearly have anticipated those things happening, and they must have had a high level of confidence that the Clippers would do their part once the dominoes started falling.

We may never know exactly how this went down.  Unless Brand or Davis decide to produce a movie about it.