GM: Baron Davis trade frees up Clippers

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Clippers' decision to deal Baron Davis and a first-round pick to Cleveland for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon at Thursday's NBA trade deadline was based on three factors: youth, cap room and an all-around weak 2011 NBA draft.

With the trade, the Clippers will save upwards of $10 million over the next two seasons by unloading Davis' weighty contract. They'll also get three years younger at the point guard position. The draft pick going to Cleveland, likely to be in the Top 10, is not worth as much as in past years because of a draft class considered poor by most draft experts.

"This is a move not just for now but for the long-term health of the franchise," Clippers general manager Neil Olshey said Thursday at the Clippers' practice facility. "It really has to do with, 'We know we're not where we need to be, and we think Mo is an additional piece that can get us there.'

"And, more than anything, not just Mo at the position but what we're gonna be able to do with the additional cap flexibility to secure players on our current roster as well as be a player in the free-agent market not just next summer but the summer following, which is an opportunity we would not have had if [Davis] was still under contract."

Despite rookie forward Blake Griffin's impressive debut this season, the Clippers, at 21-37, are still well off of a playoff pace with more than two-thirds of the year already complete. And, in losing Davis, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said he is essentially losing his quarterback on the floor.

But he's OK with that, because the Clippers feel they're adding a dynamic outside threat in Williams, who has career averages of 13.8 points and five assists per game, and the promise of adding more talent in the future. And, in the immediate present, they're also adding another small forward, in Moon, who's a much different player than their other options at that position.

"We're gonna miss some of the things that Baron can do, there's no question about it," Negro said. "But we're excited about continually adding pieces and talent as you move forward in this process. I'm excited to work with Mo and Jamario and we'll see how it all comes together, but I think it was the right decision for us at this point."

Griffin reacted to the news via Twitter, saying on his account: "Definitely gonna miss playing with the big homie @Baron_Davis but wish him nothing but success and health."

Cleveland had long been dangling Williams to teams around the league, and the Clippers and Cavs actually had preliminary conversations about a similar deal last summer. Upon learning of his destination Thursday and speaking with the Clippers' brass, Williams agreed to waive the early-termination option in his contract that would have given him the opportunity to test free agency this summer, Olshey said.

Del Negro and Olshey are scheduled to take Williams and Moon out to dinner in Los Angeles Thursday night to map out their plan for the remaining 24 games. Moon's contract will expire at the end of this season; Williams is now under contract for this year and next with a player option for the 2012-2013 season.

"They're both ecstatic," Olshey said. "They think they've got a great opportunity."

As of Thursday, the Clippers possess the eighth-worst record in the NBA, meaning the Cavs would take on an extra 2.8 percent chance of winning the lottery and obtaining the first overall pick in the draft and will very likely have two of the top 10 picks. And, regardless of the quality of the draft, the Clippers are surrendering a lottery pick -- no common occurrence for owner Donald Sterling's franchise.

Olshey downplayed that decision.

"The drill is, as always, is 'Is the player you're getting back more valuable than the potential you could get in the draft?'" said Olshey. "Our analysis at this point in February is that it was more valuable to get a 28-year-old All-Star point guard that we have for the next few years, cap flexibility to make sure we take care of business and re-sign DeAndre Jordan and have flexibility to take care of Eric Gordon as well, as opposed to speculating on another kid that's 19 years old with one year of college experience.

"And I'm not that high on the draft to begin with this year."

The other issue is the possibility of hurting Griffin's growth by cutting off his connection with Davis. The bond between the two has been well documented, and Davis admitted at various points this season that Griffin had essentially inspired him to become a better player. Griffin was always a proponent of Davis' leadership and passing abilities.

"Look, Blake really likes Baron," Olshey said Thursday. "But Blake also knows that we're in it with him and Eric for the long haul and he knows we've gotta do what's right for the organization and he trusts both Vinny and myself that we're gonna put the right pieces around him. I can tell you that the first thought process at any point when we start to do a deal is, 'How is this going to affect Blake and Eric?'

"And we felt like this is really going to help Eric on both sides of the ball and with Blake, we really felt like it's going to free him up."

Pedro Moura is a regular contributor to ESPNLosAngeles.com.