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Korolev will be a free agent

Times Staff Writer

The Clippers declined to exercise the third-year option in the contract of former first-round draft pick Yaroslav Korolev, making him an unrestricted free agent after the season, the team said Friday.

General Manager Elgin Baylor, Coach Mike Dunleavy and Andy Roeser, executive vice president, decided not to pay the 19-year-old Russian $2.7 million in the 2007-08 season. Instead, the Clippers said they would attempt to re-sign the 12th overall pick in the 2005 draft at a lower price.

Although the Clippers say the 6-foot-9, 203-pound Korolev could have a bright future in the league, they weren’t willing to make another guaranteed commitment to the unproven player because of their long-term salary-cap concerns.

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“This doesn’t change our view of Yaroslav,” Roeser said. “This has no reflection whatsoever on our sense of his skills.

“This is purely a function of our future cap-management issues. That’s it.”

The money that would have gone to Korolev could be included in the extension the Clippers plan to offer to point guard Shaun Livingston before next season, or toward signing someone playing in Europe whose rights the Clippers own.

Dunleavy is among Korolev’s biggest supporters in the organization, but Korolev is not expected to be in the rotation because of the Clippers’ talent and depth.

Dunleavy informed Korolev of the organization’s decision, reassuring him that he was still in the team’s plans.

Dunleavy also said the Clippers were committed to helping Korolev develop into the player they thought he could be when they drafted him ahead of other, more NBA-ready players.

As a rookie last season, Korolev made $1.72 million. He played in 24 games and averaged 1.1 points and 5.3 minutes.

Korolev, who has a salary of $1.96 million this season, averaged 5.6 points while playing in five of the team’s eight exhibition games. With most of the players in the Clippers’ rotation sitting out, Korolev made five of eight three-point attempts and scored 25 points Oct. 20 in a 116-106 loss to the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center.

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Elton Brand, starting center?

The 6-8 Brand could open the season at center Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns if Chris Kaman’s strained left hamstring has not healed enough for him to play.

The 7-foot Kaman sat out the Clippers’ 112-86 home loss Friday to the Denver Nuggets, and played in only two exhibition games.

“It’s getting there,” Kaman said of his hamstring. “I think I’m going to be able to play Wednesday.”

Dunleavy, who has had success using smaller lineups against the Suns, might use Tim Thomas or Corey Maggette at power forward in a reconfigured lineup.

The Clippers finished 5-3 in exhibition games.

jason.reid@latimes.com


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