Saturday, July 19, 2008

More Questions: Elton Brand and Baron Davis

Hooray for questions! Here's another one from the comments:

A mediocre question for a great basketball mind...
Me and another white guy were wondering why the Clippers signed Baron Davis, who has the pereception of being an oft-injured player and (my dad says) clubhouse cancer. will playing in his hometown help his knees? Do you think Davis signing there had anything to do with Brand sigining with the 76ers? And further, why did both these teams throw hella money at guys who have a history of injury?

Lastly, can you talk about how important iron will is?



This link has some relevant thoughts about the value of Baron Davis, good and bad. He's 29, and won't turn 30 until the end of the upcoming season, so he ought to be in his prime for a few years -- but before last year he hadn't played in even 70 games since the 2001-2002 season. He definitely has been oft-injured.

That said, Davis played the full 82 games last season, after spending the off-season getting into excellent shape. Maybe the Clippers are banking on him being able to stay healthy again for the next few seasons.

As for what they were thinking: presumably, they thought they'd sign Elton Brand as well, giving them a decent but not dominant team. Recall that the Clippers have been historically inept -- with just two seasons over .500 since moving to L.A. in 1985. But then, in the summer of 2003, when both Elton Brand and Corey Maggette were free agents, the Clippers turned the tables bi signing both to big contracts, signaling a committed effort to build a winning team. The effort paid off in the 2005-2006 season, when they not only went to the playoffs but came within one game of the Western Conference Finals, in a year when the Spurs had been knocked out in the second round and the conference was wide open. At the time, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette were both 26 years old, Chris Kaman was 23, and Shaun Livingston was 20. That core looked to be capable of improving and challenging for a title. And then, suddenly, everything fell apart. The team has been racked by injuries for the last two years, and has given up on the once-promising but oft-injured Livingston, let go of Corey Maggette, and seemed, before the Davis signing, to be an afterthought -- a team known for underspending and serving as a de facto D-League team for the rest of the NBA.

In that context, the Davis signing was another signal, similar to the one 5 years ago, that the Clips were trying to build a winning team. Historically, great players avoided playing for the Clippers because, well, that's where careers go to die. So Davis's decision is a big deal. As stated on Clipperblog, "He's a premier, image-conscious athlete who is militantly protective of his brand, which makes his choice of the Clippers all the more remarkable." Furthermore: "More than anything, the Davis signing would reverse the downward trajectory the franchise has been charting the past 18 months."

(The article linked above was written when it was still assumed that Brand would re-sign, but I think the sentiment still applies).

While Baron Davis has had some problems wearing out his welcome in Charlotte/New Orleans and Golden State, other players tend to like him and he has had a lot of success. There is some worry, I suppose, that without any real personality on the team, the Clippers will take on the personality of Baron Davis -- in good and bad ways -- with swagger and fearlessness on the court, and (perhaps) a bit of cavalierness off the court. I guess we'll see what happens.

[A completely unrelated aside: The Atlanta Hawks right now are in the same position as the Clippers in 2003 -- what they do with Josh Smith and Josh Childress should say a lot about whether they are trying to do anything meaningful in the league]

Elton Brand, on the other hand, shouldn't be considered as having a "history of injury." Since joining the Clippers, he had played an average of 75 games a season before missing almost all of last year due to a ruptured achilles tendon. According to WebMD, successful surgery for this injury (which Brand had) allows the patient to fully recover, and the chance of reinjury is only about 2% (and we can assume that Brand's trainers will pay special attention to it, thereby reducing the risk). So signing him is a relatively safe bet. As for whether it helps: well, it should allow the 76ers to move Thaddeus Young (a very promising rookie last year playing out of position at the 4) to the 3 (moving Iguodala to the 2), and finally gives the team a true post player on offense, who can probably mesh well with Sam Dalembert. It puts Philadelphia right there with teams like Orlando and Toronto behind Boston/Detroit in the Eastern conference.

Lastly, I never saw Iron Will, and to me the Iditarod is the only dogsled race that matters.

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