The Clippers could very well be facing an unfamiliar new era come next season, with two centerpieces placing one foot out the door.
For much of the last decade, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette have served as faces for the franchise. The pair took another step together Monday when both used options in their contracts to become attractive, unrestricted free agents, bypassing the final year of their respective contracts.
Their deadlines to opt out ran into the NBA’s official free-agency period that began at 9:01 p.m. Monday. Teams are now able to negotiate with free agents but are not allowed to officially announce deals until July 9, when next year’s salary cap is set.
To that end, the Clippers took the first steps in filling their gaping hole at point guard. Coach Mike Dunleavy met late Monday with free-agent Beno Udrih, of the Sacramento Kings, in New York to discuss a multiyear deal.
They also contacted the Raptors’ Jose Calderon, who is a restricted free agent, meaning Toronto can match any offer made to him. Baron Davis, who opted out of his contract with the Golden State Warriors, is also of interest.
But the Clippers’ top priorities immediately shift to retaining Brand and Maggette.
“On Monday night, when NBA rules permit, we will be aggressive in contacting them to address our interest in having them remain with the Clippers,” team President Andy Roeser said. “We will also be active in contacting other free agents in whom we have interest.”
When reached by phone, Brand said he is aiming to re-sign with the Clippers. He is a two-time All-Star who has been with the team since 2001-02 but played in only eight games last season while recuperating from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
Now, the Clippers must decide whether they are willing to offer him a new maximum contract that could command $120 million over six years.
“It means I’m a free agent, but my intentions are to stay with the Clippers,” said Brand, who was owed $16.44 million if he remained in his former contract. “That’s always been my intention.”
Referring to the Clippers as “we,” Brand said he would like to see them be aggressive in this free-agent market.
“I think with the pieces we have, we can do some damage,” he said, adding their focus should be on signing a proven point guard.
“We’re definitely playoff contenders with the pieces we have,” Brand said. “There are guys like a Beno Udrih or someone like that, solid at the point guard spot, because we don’t really know Shaun [Livingston’s] situation and Brevin [Knight] is the only point guard we have on the roster right now, but I think we’re fine.”
David Falk, Brand’s agent, said the decision to opt out took a lot of “soul searching” from Brand.
The decision may have come, Falk said, when Brand attended Game 2 of the NBA Finals and witnessed a strong and veteran-laden Boston Celtics team come together for the title.
“I think it was a wake-up call for him at age 29 that he needs to put himself in a position that a lot of his peers have,” Falk said, later adding: “We’ll see what [the Clippers] will do over the next nine days and act accordingly.”
Brand mentioned the Philadelphia 76ers as a possible destination.
“Bottom line is, we’d like to do a long-term deal with him,” Dunleavy said by phone.
Philadelphia, along with the Memphis Grizzlies, is one of the few teams that have abundant cap space this off-season.
The Clippers can now be added to that list. The pair’s departure would leave the Clippers about $26 million under the salary cap with potentially more space on the way.
Their current team salary is about $29 million, which doesn’t account for the guaranteed contract coming to incoming draft pick Eric Gordon.
However, the available frontcourt options immediately became weaker Monday when news trickled out that Antawn Jamison signed a new deal with the Washington Wizards.
Maggette, the longest-tenured Clipper, who came to the team in the 2000-01 season, will also become highly sought-after and is believed to be seeking a deal of about $10 million a year.
He was owed $7 million had he remained in his last contract, and the Clippers have maintained they hope to re-sign him.
However, a sign-and-trade with him could also be in the team’s plans. As with Brand, under free-agency rules, the Clippers can offer Maggette a higher salary for six years, in comparison with the five years that other teams can tender.
Maggette, 28, averaged 22.1 points a game for the Clippers last season. He has long been among owner Donald T. Sterling’s favorite players but has butted heads with Coach Mike Dunleavy.
Five summers ago, both Brand and Maggette were restricted free agents.
At that time, Brand signed an offer sheet with the Miami Heat, and Maggette signed one with the Utah Jazz.
The Clippers matched both offers, retaining the players. They do not have the same prerogative this time around.