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Korolev still in team’s plans with new deal

Times Staff Writer

Yaroslav Korolev will return to the Clippers.

The former lottery pick, who became a free agent when the team declined to exercise his contract option, agreed to terms Friday on a two-year deal.

“The situation with the contract is not final yet, but we’re working on it and I’m still with the Clippers,” Korolev said. “I’m happy I’m going to be here.”

Under NBA rules, Korolev’s new contract, which guarantees him about $800,000 and includes a team option for the 2008-09 season, won’t become official until Wednesday.

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Meanwhile, the Clippers’ pursuit of point guard Steve Francis continued.

The Portland Trail Blazers and Francis’ agent, Jeff Fried, are in the process of negotiating a buyout of the three-time All-Star’s contract. If a deal is completed, Francis would be free to sign with another team, and the Clippers are on his list.

Many other teams, however, are also interested in Francis, so the process could drag on for weeks, sources said.

Korolev’s situation was resolved quickly.

The Clippers in October declined to pay the 20-year-old Russian forward $2.7 million for the 2007-08 season, prompting speculation that he was no longer in the team’s plans.

In two seasons, Korolev, the 12th overall pick in the 2005 draft, played in only 34 of 164 regular-season games and scored 39 points.

With their first-round selection in the June 28 draft, the Clippers selected forward Al Thornton of Florida State, who plays the same position as Korolev.

Corey Maggette, among owner Donald T. Sterling’s favorite players, is considered firmly entrenched as the starting wing forward, and Thornton is projected to be a key member of the rotation next season, so the Clippers’ decision to re-sign Korolev might seem surprising to some league observers.

But Coach Mike Dunleavy is Korolev’s biggest supporter in the organization, and Dunleavy apparently persuaded Sterling and Andy Roeser, executive vice president, to stick with the 6-foot-10 player.

“I’ve been here for two years ... two years of not playing too much,” Korolev said. “But I’ve worked hard, and coach tells me he still has his eye on me, so I’m going to keep working hard and see what happens. Coach didn’t turn his back on me, and that means a lot to me.”

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Because of injuries he suffered during the season, Elton Brand might not receive medical clearance to play for the U.S. national team next month, sources said.

Although the two-time All-Star was expected to heal in time for training camp in October, his status is unclear for the FIBA Americas Championship in Las Vegas from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2.

Brand, however, still hopes to play, sources said, and he plans to report to Las Vegas on July 20 for a two-day training camp.

jason.reid@latimes.com


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