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On Elton Brand and Retired Jerseys

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One of the greatest Clippers ever is retiring, but putting his jersey in the rafters would be controversial.

Elton Brand #42

In a 2001 draft-day trade, the Clippers traded the 2nd overall pick (Tyson Chandler) and Brian Skinner for Elton Brand, the Chicago Bulls’ first overall pick from 1999. Brand had enjoyed two successful 20-point, 10-rebound per game seasons in Chicago, and he immediately became a star for the Clippers.

In 7 seasons with the Clippers, Brand appeared in 459 games, playing 38.3 minutes a night and posting averages of 20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 blocks per game. He was twice a Western Conference All-Star as a Clipper, and he led them to arguably their best pre-Blake Griffin season ever: the 2006 campaign where the team fell in 7 games to the Phoenix Suns in the second round. Brand averaged a remarkable 30.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 3.1 blocks per game in that series.

While Elton probably won’t end up in the Basketball Hall of Fame, he’s got a strong portfolio. Basketball-Reference’s Hall of Fame Probability tool ranks him 25th among active players, with about a 7% chance—not great, but still a strong testament to his excellent career.

So, for the Clippers, who have never honored a former player with a jersey retirement, why not make Elton the first? A legitimate star from a league perspective, who was the best player on one of the Clippers’ best teams ever—that guy’s jersey is definitely a candidate for the rafters.

But they probably shouldn’t retire Brand’s jersey. After the 2006 playoff run, the Clippers narrowly missed the 2007 playoffs, finishing 40-42 (the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks threw a late-season game against the Golden State Warriors because they wanted to face the Warriors instead of the Clippers, and then the Warriors eliminated them in one of the most shocking upsets in NBA history). Then, Brand missed almost the entire 2008 season with an Achilles injury. That’s obviously no reason to not retire his jersey though.

The problem is that in the summer of 2008, after the Clippers had stuck with Brand during his injury, Elton left the team for the Philadelphia 76ers after committing to re-sign early in free agency.

Brand had opted out of the last year of his contract to re-sign long-term with the Clippers, giving them cap room to recruit All-Star point guard Baron Davis. With Brand’s help, the Clippers reached an agreement with Davis, but after that, Brand backed out of his talks with the team. Many attribute this to the shady dealings of Brand’s notorious agent, David Falk (who had negotiated Sam Cassell’s buyout with the team earlier that year), but ultimately Elton had the final say.

Elton Brand screwed his teammates and fans over, an All-Star power forward leaving in free agency at the age of 29. Do the Clippers really want to honor that in the months before a 28-year-old Blake Griffin hits free agency? Do they really want to honor that at all?

I wouldn’t be a fan of the move. Leaving the team doesn’t disqualify Brand from having his jersey retired, but the manner in which he left should. Playing 6 full seasons (the 7th only had 8 games played) with a team and only making one playoffs isn’t an all-time historic accomplishment.

One of my least favorite counterarguments is that the Clippers were better off for Brand leaving. It’s true, but it isn’t especially relevant. Sure, without Brand leaving the Clippers would have probably never ended up with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, but it isn’t like he left just to help the team get to this point. It wasn’t out of the goodness of his heart that he left the team, paving the way for us fans to enjoy multiple 50-win seasons.

I’d like to see a “Ralph Lawler” microphone jersey hung in the rafters on opening night when the Clippers move to a new arena sometime in the next decade, and he should be the first one up there. Following him, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin belong up there, depending on how their careers play out. Hell, if the Clippers win a ring with this core four, I’d retire DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick’s jerseys too.

But Elton Brand? Nah. I’ll stick with the classic Clips Nation tradition: FElton.