NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com on Monday night that the Philadelphia 76ers are again "actively involved" in the Brand hunt -- and now are a very serious threat to tempt him away from L.A. -- after initially fearing they couldn't compete financially with the Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
In the face of a longstanding leaguewide consensus that Brand would return to Hollywood to form a new partnership with Clipper-to-be Baron Davis, sources say that the Sixers are growing increasingly confident in their ability to create additional salary-cap space by trading away swingman Rodney Carney and center Calvin Booth, setting them up to make a sufficiently rich offer Brand would struggle to refuse.
Dealing away Carney and Booth -- with Minnesota and Memphis quickly emerging as possible destinations -- would shed nearly $3 million from the Sixers' payroll next season as long as the trade doesn't require new GM Ed Stefanski to take any salary back.
Multiple front-office sources said late Monday that the Sixers are closing in on a deal with the Timberwolves in which the Wolves would absorb the contracts of both Carney and Booth by using the $2.8 million remaining from a trade exception created by Minnesota's trade of Mark Blount to Miami last October and a separate minimum player exception. The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the Sixers would also send a future No. 1 pick to the Wolves, with Philadelphia receiving a second-rounder in return.
"The only thing I can share with you is that Calvin's contract will be traded to Minnesota tomorrow," Booth's agent, Mark Termini, told AP on Tuesday.
The Sixers are already expecting to have at least $11 million in salary-cap space to spend when the league announces next season's cap figure to all 30 teams Tuesday night. Depending on how closely the cap ceiling for the 2008-09 season comes to the widely projected estimate of $58-59 million -- and if the Sixers can finalize a trade to part with Carney and Booth -- it's conceivable that Philadelphia could possess the financial flexibility to start a five-year offer to Brand at a first-year salary in the $15 million range.
With much of the league's other significant free-agent business seemingly on hold while the Brand saga plays out, sources maintain that the Sixers also remain highly interested in Atlanta Hawks restricted free agent Josh Smith. Yet it appears that Philadelphia will give itself every opportunity to emerge as the unlikely winner of the Brand sweepstakes before deciding whether to sign Smith to an offer sheet that the Hawks would have seven days to match.
If Philadelphia can indeed manufacture a first-year salary of at least $15 million, that could exceed what can be offered by the Clippers, who must balance their obvious No. 1 priority -- retaining Brand -- with the cap space they'll need to formally sign Davis to the five-year, $65 million deal which the former Golden State point guard verbally agreed to last week.
It's possible that the Warriors, depending on where the cap is set, could still outbid both L.A. and Philadelphia for Brand thanks to Davis' defection. If next season's salary cap is announced at $59 million or thereabouts, as expected, Golden State should have the wherewithal to offer Brand a five-year deal worth just over $95 million.
Sources close to the process told ESPN.com on Monday that the Warriors continue to have dialogue with the Brand camp and have not abandoned hope of luring the 29-year-old to Northern California.
Yet separate sources suggested Monday that Brand -- if he's ultimately drawn away from his Face of the Franchise status with the Clippers -- would be more inclined to jump to Philadelphia than to Golden State, given the Sixers' residence in a conference with far fewer contenders than the West and the opportunity to join an emerging Philly nucleus (Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and the considerable wingspan of center Samuel Dalembert) that won many admirers as last season progressed.
It's believed that the Clippers can still assemble a five-year offer to Brand worth $80-85 million and give Davis his estimated $65 million over five years by simply renouncing their rights to free agents Corey Maggette and Shaun Livingston, renouncing several other free agents with modest salaries (Quinton Ross, Nick Fazekas, Marcus Williams, Paul Davis, Dan Dickau, Boniface N'Dong, James Singleton and Smush Parker) and perhaps waiving forward Josh Powell.
The Clippers also have the ability, as ESPN.com reported Monday, to put Brand on a very short list with Staples Center co-tenant Kobe Bryant as the only players in the league with an active no-trade clause in their contracts. A player must have at least eight seasons of service time, including four with his current team, to be eligible for a no-trade clause in the NBA. The player must also be entering into a new contract as opposed to merely extending a previous contract.
Provided that Clippers owner Donald Sterling responds to Philly's late charge by doing all he can financially to keep the two-time All-Star, it will be recorded as one of the bigger free-agent surprises in recent memory should Brand elect to leave behind his well-chronicled love of Hollywood and one-of-a-kind pride in being a Clipper to head back to the Eastern Conference for the first time since the Chicago Bulls traded him to the Clippers on draft night in 2001.
That's largely because Brand and agent David Falk, in announcing Brand's unexpected decision to opt out of the final season of his previous contract to become an unrestricted free agent, last week explained the forfeiture of next season's $16.4 million by saying they hoped to give L.A. more payroll flexibility to strengthen the team around Brand.
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. On the first day of free agency, L.A. reached a verbal agreement with Davis in what easily ranks as the biggest free-agent coup in Clippers history. ESPN.com reported two days later that Davis was the player Brand specifically asked Clippers management to chase in June.
But Clippers officials, already said to be privately shaken by Golden State's substantial offer to Brand, will have much more serious cause for concern if the Sixers can shed a salary or two this week to increase their available cap space.
Sources said that Carney going to Memphis would be a possibility because the Grizzlies have ample cap room of their own to absorb Carney as well as a natural interest in a player likely to have some gate appeal after experiencing collegiate success at Memphis.
But a deal with Minnesota would obviously be preferable for the Sixers, enabling them to shed two contracts and then immediately throw a megadeal at Brand after pointing to what they could achieve in the summer of 2008 since dealing Allen Iverson to Denver in December 2006.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.