"Just Business" Isn't Always Classy

October, 13, 2008
10/13/08
9:54
AM ET

They say it all the time.

"It's just business."

That's an NBA phrase that encompasses a wide range of behavior, from strategic and smart to downright callous.

In today's New York Times, Jonathan Abrams (you might remember him from the Los Angeles Times) gets some of the nitty gritty of how Elton Brand ended up as a Sixer. It started with Elton Brand negotiating directly with his Clipper coach, and the team's unofficial GM, Mike Dunleavy:

They agreed on money and years, but became stuck at a point for an early termination option, a clause that would allow him to become a free agent earlier.

"My last correspondence with him was July 1 at 7:57 p.m.," Dunleavy recently said in a telephone interview. "He texted, 'Hey Coach, I have some problem with some language and the E.T.O.'

"By the next morning, I texted him back and said I got it taken care of and to call me. I haven't heard from him since."

At that point, Brand recalled, his agent, David Falk, told him: "Turn your phone off. You're not talking to them anymore. I'm your agent. Let me do my job."

Brand cut off communication with everybody from the Clippers. Falk took charge of Brand's negotiations and, after entertaining an offer from the Warriors, Brand signed a five-year, $82 million deal with the 76ers.

The signing ignited a war of words between Dunleavy and Falk, through radio waves and newspapers. It put a mark on Brand's good-guy reputation in the N.B.A.

"It wasn't an issue of him leaving," Dunleavy said. "It was an issue how Elton left. To me, it was that he didn't even call or explain it after the time we had together. I basically did all I could for the guy. He could have called me up and said this is better for my family and I would have said O.K. What could I do with that?

"After being with somebody for five years and being as close as I thought I was with someone and a guy gives his word, that's all it would have taken as far as I'm concerned. It's just one of those types of things."

Brand acknowledged that he had not spoken with Dunleavy since.

"After that, it was kind of he-said, she-said; I didn't know what was true," Brand said. "But Coach Dunleavy was the best pro coach I played for. I got the furthest in my career and I was an All-Star under him. I hope it's water under the bridge because I think he's a good coach and a good person."

David Falk has that reputation: He's a hard man. He's a pit bull. He's all about the big numbers.

And he got big numbers, and a team on the rise close to home, for Brand. He did his job. I can't blame Falk at all for not wanting Brand to negotiate directly with the team -- things get weird when you're negotiating on multiple fronts.

We also have no idea how the Clippers may or may not have contributed to the impasse. A lot of times fans are quick to critique how players handle things, while teams are more than capable of behaving questionably.

But I can also tell you this: Elton Brand has a reputation as a good guy. And that reputation was hurt by this exchange. Possibly needlessly so. Calling Dunleavy to say goodbye, and explain his reasoning wouldn't have earned Elton Brand more money. It would have been a very decent thing to do, though, and I suspect that in the long run it would have contributed to the quality of Elton Brand's relationships and his sense of well-being -- two very valuable things in the long run.

Talk to retired players. Relationships with their former coaches and teammates are some of the most important things they have.

The good news is that there's still plenty of time for Brand to pick up the phone, and I expect he will one day before too long.

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