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Brand signals his loyalties

Times Staff Writer

They had him cornered.

It was after a recent home loss among a string of many.

And as Elton Brand walked along, a trio of season-ticket holders approached him.

They spoke of their agony. He listened.

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They complained of a dismal season. He agreed.

They said if he isn’t coming back, they aren’t. He committed . . . somewhat.

“I told them, ‘Yeah, as long as everything is right. I don’t want to see you guys like this,’ ” Brand said. “They are down. They are definitely down. Nobody wants to support a product like that. You are losing by 26 or 30 points at home. Why pay good money to come see that? You want to support your team, you want them to win ballgames. You want them to compete.”

There are two schools of thought to Brand’s returning this season from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon with the playoffs removed from the picture.

1) He is returning to show he is fully healed, heading into an off-season where he can opt out of the final season of his contract, in which he is owed $16.4 million.

2) He is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and can offer hope for the franchise next season.

Brand understands the first but insists it’s the second.

“People can look at it like that, but I’ve pretty much established myself in the league,” he said. “I don’t know how the off-season works, but I’m sure [other teams] could see me somehow without playing and have enough confidence in my ability that I can still play. So I don’t think I need to come back to showcase myself to other teams.”

Even though Brand can become a free agent, most talk is about him recovering to help next year’s team.

“I’m not one to just up and leave a situation,” he said. “I’m not a quitter. I owe it to the fans. I owe it to Coach [Mike Dunleavy]. He’s out there coaching every single play.”

It would be unlikely that Brand would walk away from a large contract coming off a serious injury with few teams in a position to throw money at free agents. But Brand also has a strong desire to win.

If he does opt out, the Clippers are intent on re-signing him and can tack on another year to Brand’s deal, while other teams can only offer him deals of up to five years.

Tonight’s opponent also will have its eyes on him.

Brand signed a six-year, $82.2-million offer sheet with the Miami Heat in 2003 before the Clippers matched it.

The Heat will potentially have cap space again this off-season if Shawn Marion opts out of his contract.

Marion is due $17.8 million next season.

Heat Coach Pat Riley has long admired Brand and Miami made inquiries on Brand and Corey Maggette last summer.

“You hear the rumors and it’s definitely flattering that people believe in your abilities,” Brand said. “I’m still working hard for it, but right now my goal is to be here and be healthy for this team.”

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TONIGHT

at Miami, 4:30 PDT, FSN Prime Ticket

Site -- AmericanAirlines Arena.

Radio -- 710.

Records -- Clippers 20-41, Heat 11-50.

Record vs. Heat -- 0-1.

Update -- Back when the Heat still had Shaquille O’Neal, it handed the Clippers a 100-94 loss Dec. 9 at Staples Center. Dwyane Wade scored 33 points for the Heat in a game that earned Pat Riley his 1,200th regular-season coaching victory.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com


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