For the better part of six months, I've been writing stories on how the Clippers have positioned themselves to be players in what is regarded as the best free-agent class the NBA has ever seen. I've talked with front-office sources around the league, agents, players, basically anyone whose opinion or insight might matter in determining whether the Clippers actually have a shot at this. The answer: Yes, but it's a long shot.
So on the night free agency officially begins, I could think of only one other person whose opinion might provide fresh insight. Baron Davis.
In 2008, he took the same kind of leap the 2010 free-agent class is about to, opting out of the final year and $17.8 million of his contract with the Golden State Warriors to sign a five-year deal with the Clippers.
Having grown up in Los Angeles, Davis knew exactly what he was getting into and the history he would have to undo. Two years in, he has yet to reap many benefits. And yet, when I caught up with him via e-mail late Wednesday night, he seemed optimistic.
Davis has been traveling on a humanitarian mission through the war-torn nation of Rwanda for the past two weeks. His BlackBerry service is spotty at best. He's heard virtually no news regarding LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire.
And yet, when I wrote to him on a whim late Wednesday night to ask whether he could lend any new perspective to the situation, he responded immediately. Here is what he wanted the free-agent class of 2010 to know about the Clippers. -- Ramona Shelburne
An open letter to free agents:
I'm writing this from Africa, a far cry from the 24-7 media updates on what's known as the biggest and best free agency class in the history of the NBA. I can't help but think about two summers ago, when I was making the decision to stay or leave from the Warriors. I came to LA to make an impact on the city, to help change the shape of another organization. I took the road less traveled. I left a team that was one win shy of the playoffs. I left a city that I had made a home. I left fans that were amazing. All to cause change, to start over again. I came to Los Angeles, hoping to rebuild and reignite a franchise.
It takes a lot of luck, talent, money, and strong leadership to have continued success in the NBA. I can say without a doubt that we're on the right track. The franchise is moving into a younger more vibrant direction. The negative mindset is gone. I definitely don't think I need to pitch anyone on the benefits that Los Angeles has to offer. Everybody knows its one of the best places in the world. And when it comes down to it, it shouldn't be about the city anyway, [it's] about what you want to accomplish. If you truly are passionate about the game of basketball and want to accept the challenge, come join us. We have a young nucleus that has the tools to compete every night, and I can't name another franchise whose fans have kept faith and supported their team like Clipper Nation has supported us.
I have spent the past two weeks traveling in Africa and have been humbled to the utmost. I have learned a lot about myself, and what it truly means to be a part of a community working towards a common goal. My hope is that I can take what I have learned here, and apply it to my life both personally and professionally. We must never take for granted the life we have and the opportunity to work with each other to make history. On a much smaller scale, being an NBA player and the decision many of you free agents make can greatly change the path of a community and a franchise.
As people, it is in our DNA to want to be individuals amongst a group, to be different than the person next to us. So what we offer is the chance to create a new starting point. Success here, in one of the [world's] largest media markets, will mean you have everything at your fingertips. It's no secret that this franchise has faced many obstacles, but the past doesn't have to determine the future. No matter what decision you make, someone won't like it. You have an opportunity to write a new story in the city of Los Angeles. Our organization and community [are] ready and willing to embrace more talent. Great opportunities exist amongst many teams, but here you aren't just continuing a legacy, you have the opportunity to create your own.