Baron Davis is on his way home.
A day after Davis shocked the Golden State Warriors by opting out of the final season of his contract to become a free agent, the big-game point guard is on the verge of signing a long-term deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Though Davis refused to directly confirm his agent's declaration to The Los Angeles Times that they have agreed to sign a five-year, $65 million deal with Golden State's Pacific Division rivals, he left no doubt about his upcoming move back to his native Southern California.
Davis can't sign with the Clippers until July 9, but he already was speaking about the Warriors in the past tense Tuesday night before attending the Bay Area premiere of "Made in America," a documentary he produced about gang life in Los Angeles. He grew up in a tough neighborhood before attending a ritzy high school in Santa Monica and later starring at UCLA.
"It's tough, but you have to do what's best," said Davis, his usually bushy beard trimmed short below large black-rimmed glasses. "You have to do what's fair. I'm happy with where I'm going. A big reason is because of the impact and the things that I can do going forward. I knew I could have done them here and created all kinds of good things and positive things in the community, and ultimately, me going home helps me make an impact on young kids."
The 29-year-old Davis has never made a secret of his desire to play in his hometown near the film industry. Davis and the Warriors recently held negotiations on a long-term contract extension, but Golden State apparently kept its offers lower and shorter than what the Clippers were willing to pay.
"I wanted to be here for a long time," claimed Davis, who lives in San Francisco, across the bay from the Warriors' Oakland headquarters. "(The Bay Area) is home. I still consider this home. The fans have done nothing but encourage, congratulate and support everything that I've ever done. ... I just took what was best for me."
The Clippers were quick to pounce, offering a long-term deal to the oft-injured, playmaking point guard who helped transform the Warriors' fortunes in just 3 1/2 seasons with the club.
Davis averaged 21.8 points, 7.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds while playing in all 82 games last season for the Warriors, who led the NBA in scoring and finished with 48 wins _ the best record by a non-playoff team in recent league history. Most of the club's core was due back for next season, but now Golden State will move on without its leader.
A year earlier, Davis was the catalyst for Golden State's trip to the second round of the playoffs, ending a 12-season postseason drought. The run was highlighted by a stunning upset of top-seeded Dallas in the first round. With back-to-back strong seasons, Davis cemented his reputation as a clutch scorer and team leader despite a minor squabble with coach Don Nelson late in the Warriors' unsuccessful playoff run last spring.
On Monday, Davis surprised the league by opting out of the final year of his long-term contract, turning down $17.8 million for next season to become an unrestricted free agent. He cited only vague reasons for the decision Tuesday night, but Davis could have been upset by Nelson's recent vows to play the Warriors' young players more next season, even at the expense of a few victories.
Clippers forward Elton Brand and swingman Corey Maggette also opted out of their contracts on Monday, but Los Angeles is expected to make a strong push to re-sign Brand, who also fancies himself a filmmaker. Brand said he plans to stay with the Clippers despite his decision, even if he must accept a contract below the NBA maximum for free agents.
With Davis and Brand, the Clippers _ who won just 23 games last season _ would have a talented core, albeit a middle-aged group by NBA standards, and one with significant injury histories.
"If it wasn't for the Bay Area, I don't know where I would be," said Davis, picked third overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1999. "When I came from New Orleans, I was injured. I didn't know if I would ever be able to really reclaim any type of basketball prowess, and from the time I walked to that table against the Detroit Pistons (for the first game), I always knew that I could accomplish anything here."
Davis' abrupt departure throws the Warriors' offseason plans into flux. For starters, they don't have a starting point guard, though Monta Ellis has long been expected by Nelson to assume the role eventually.
Top basketball executive Chris Mullin, who didn't return a phone call seeking comment, has said he will retain restricted free agents Ellis and Andris Biedrins at any price.
With Davis spurning the club, Golden State now has additional room under the salary cap to pursue a free agent, though few major names are available. The Warriors already are known to be interested in Washington guard Gilbert Arenas, who played his first two NBA seasons in Oakland but can make more money with the Wizards.