The highly anticipated Hollywood marriage hooking up Elton Brand and Baron Davis is over before it started.
The Philadelphia 76ers swiftly and stunningly managed to break it up after a week of bliss in theory only by convincing Brand to jump to the Eastern Conference and spurn what was widely presumed to be his slam-dunk return to the Los Angeles Clippers to play alongside Davis.
NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that Brand has verbally agreed to sign a five-year deal worth an estimated $82 million with the Sixers, who feared as recently as late last week that they wouldn't be able to compete financially for Brand with the Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
But Philadelphia first reached an agreement in principle Monday with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a trade that, according to sources, will send Sixers forward Rodney Carney, center Calvin Booth and a future first-round pick to the Wolves without Philadelphia having to take back any salary. It's a trade that will shave nearly $3 million off the Sixers' payroll next season and increase what was already substantial salary-cap space, positioning Philadelphia to secure a verbal commitment from Brand on a five-year agreement believed to be starting in the $14-to-15 million range.
The deal can't be finalized until Wednesday, which is the first day that NBA teams can officially complete signings and trades after the lifting of a leaguewide moratorium on rosters which began July 1. The Sixers must submit their trade with Minnesota for league approval before signing Brand, which isn't likely to happen until the league office opens for business Wednesday morning.
But Brand was already in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, sources said, preparing to join his new team just seven days after Davis had verbally committed to sign with his hometown Clippers and seemingly ensure that the bruising power forward would be going nowhere.
Brand could not be reached for comment, but one source close to the process said: "Elton wants to go East."
His motivation must have been strong given the criticism Brand is sure to face back in L.A. after he and agent David Falk announced last week that Brand was opting out of the final year of his previous contract -- worth $16.4 million -- to give the Clippers more payroll flexibility to strengthen the team around Brand. Within 24 hours of those declarations, Clippers management responded on the first day of free agency by reaching terms with Davis in what easily ranks as the biggest free-agent coup in team history.
One source familiar with the negotiations, furthermore, insisted Tuesday that the Clippers increased their final offer to Brand to a virtual match of Philadelphia's at an estimated $81 million over five seasons. The Clippers were also the only team in the running with the ability to offer a no-trade clause to Brand, something that only one other player in the league -- Staples Center co-tenant Kobe Bryant -- has in his contract.
But the Clippers' confidence that delivering Davis would guarantee Brand's return -- even with the Warriors responding to Davis' defection by trying to tempt Brand with a five-year offer in the $90 million range -- gradually crumbled as Philadelphia made its late charge. The Sixers' shedding of two salaries just to set up a major free-agent signing is reminiscent of the gambit made by Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1996, when then-Lakers personnel chief Jerry West sent Anthony Peeler and George Lynch to the then-Vancouver Grizzlies, creating the cap space that made it possible for L.A. to sign Shaquille O'Neal away from Orlando.
Getting Brand away from the Clippers might not quite have a Shaq-sized impact on the Sixers -- who will likely need more perimeter shooting, depth and experience as a group to challenge the league's elite -- but it's an undeniable coup for Philadelphia on a variety of levels. The move also continues a recent trend of offseason revival for teams in the East, after last summer's Rashard Lewis-to-Orlando signing and the trade acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen which helped the Boston Celtics win their first championship since 1986.
The Celtics certainly could not have returned to prominence without the deal for Garnett and Wolves front-office head Kevin McHale will get another assist here. Minnesota's willingness to take on Carney and Booth has helped another long-suffering traditional powerhouse from the Northeast fill a major void with a marquee name.
Although he was limited to only eight games last season after an Achilles tear, Brand is the proven power player and interior force Philadelphia clearly lacks on an otherwise promising roster that won many admirers as last season progressed. The Sixers extended Detroit to six games in a first-round series more competitive than many anticipated and will now be adding a two-time All-Star to veterans Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala, top youngsters Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young, and the considerable wingspan of Samuel Dalembert at center.
A move to the East comes with off-court benefits as well for Brand, sending the 29-year-old to a conference with far fewer title contenders and moving him closer to his East Coast-based family with Brand and his wife expecting their first child this fall.
Brand told ESPN.com on June 30 that his "intention is to stay" with the Clippers, while Falk spoke optimistically of Brand signing a deal to "finish his career with the Clippers" if the team could make another significant personnel acquisition or two. ESPN.com reported late last week that Davis was the player Brand specifically asked Clippers management to chase in June.
Yet sources were adamant late Tuesday that Davis, while undeniably disappointed by Brand's about-face, would not reconsider his promise to sign with L.A.'s star-crossed other team. Nor are the Clippers, sources said, planning to back away from the lucrative long-term commitment they've made to the former UCLA star, even though their A scenario was certainly signing Brand and Davis as a package deal to team with center Chris Kaman and youngsters Al Thornton and Eric Gordon.
"I thought that we made some moves that had the chance to get a great team on the court," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy told The Los Angeles Times, adding he hadn't had any contact Brand since last Thursday.
"I thought we had a deal with Baron." Dunleavy continued. "I thought we had a deal with Elton. It was a big commitment from our owner. I don't know what happened with Elton. It just didn't work out."