OAKLAND — What promised to be a tumultuous offseason for the Warriors was kicked into overdrive Monday when point guard Baron Davis left $17.8 million on the table and opted out of the final year of his contract, becoming an unrestricted free agent and throwing Golden State's immediate plans into confusion.
Davis has maintained for months that he wants to remain a Warrior and was telling members of the organization last week that he would not opt out, but with mere hours to spare the man most responsible for breaking Golden State's 12-season playoff drought reversed course dramatically.
"I'm surprised, because 17 million is a lot of money for a year of basketball, but that's his prerogative," Warriors coach Don Nelson said. "He talked to me a couple days ago and said he was coming back. ... Opting out of a $17 million contract, that's (bold)."
Instead, with talks on a contract extension going nowhere, Davis played the last major piece of leverage he had. Although he is unlikely in the short term to recoup that $17.8 million — the final piece of a six-year max deal he signed with the New Orleans Hornets in 2002 — he can now negotiate a long-term deal with another team to try to set up a sign-and-trade situation.
Or, the move may spur the Warriors — who allowed their $10 million trade exception to expire Monday — to sweeten their contract proposals. It's believed that Golden State has been offering more than $11 million as an average salary but has been toeing a hard line on the number of guaranteed years, leaving the two sides far apart in terms of total guaranteed compensation despite Davis' impressive 2007-08 statistics. He played in all 82 games, averaging 21.8 points, 7.6 points and 2.3 steals per contest.
"Baron is hopeful to remain a Warrior, and he continues his commitment to winning a championship," Todd Ramasar, Davis' agent, said Monday in a statement.
Only two teams — Memphis and Philadelphia — are likely to have any significant money under the cap, but the Grizzlies already have a plethora of point guards and the 76ers have Andre Miller pulling down $10 million this season.
There is, however, an intriguing landing spot: It's believed that Davis, a Los Angeles native, may be angling for a hometown return with the Clippers, who had veteran forwards Corey Maggette and Elton Brand also opt out Monday. The Clippers don't have room to sign Davis outright, but if they renounce the rights to Maggette and sign Brand to a relatively inexpensive deal, they could free enough space to make a run.
Ramasar said last week that it was "not likely" that his client was going to abandon such an extravagant salary but did say that things could change quickly if the landscape was altered by other big names opting out, citing Brand as an example of such a player.
Golden State has only six players under contract — starters Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson, plus untested youngsters Marco Belinelli, Kosta Perovic, C.J. Watson and Brandan Wright — although it holds matching rights on three restricted free agents, including young stars Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis, and the draft rights to forwards Anthony Randolph and Richard Hendrix.
The team does not have room to maneuver under the salary cap, however. In order to retain the ability to sign-and-trade Davis, the Warriors need to carry him on their cap at 150 percent of his 2007-08 salary, or $24.7 million.
But if the Warriors were to take Davis off their cap — either by renouncing Davis, or by having him sign directly with another team — and renounced their sign-and-trade rights to their other unrestricted free agents, they would have roughly $41 on the books, leaving them probably upwards of $15 million to spend on a unrestricted free agent such as Brand or Washington guard Gilbert Arenas. They could even ink a restricted free agent such as Atlanta power forward Josh Smith, who would provide rebounding and shot blocking to a team that has little of either, and hand over the reins to Ellis.
Nelson said last season that Ellis wasn't ready to handle point-guard duties full-time but sounded a different tune Monday.
"That'd be a possibility," Nelson said. "I think he's ready for the next step. He's going to play as much as he can regardless. He'll just play more point."
Contact Geoff Lepper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Baron Davis fared with the Warriors:
Year G Pt Reb Ast Stl
2005 28 19.5 3.9 8.3 1.8
05-06 54 17.9 4.4 8.9 1.6
06-07 63 20.1 4.4 8.1 2.1
07-08 82 21.8 4.7 7.6 2.3
Totals 227 20.1 4.4 8.1 2.0
Career 608 17.1 4.1 7.2 1.9