Maybe you've heard this before: A high profile NBA power forward says he is on board with his team, all systems go as the free agent signing period approaches. It looks like a long and happy relationship ahead.

But before you can say "Benedict Arnold" he's staging a press conference in another city and his former team is expressing shock and dismay.

Divorce.

Sometimes you don't see it coming.

That's what happened last week when L.A. Clippers star Elton Brand jumped to the Philadelphia 76ers. It's also what happened when Carlos Boozer left Cleveland for Utah in 2004. In both cases, there were concerns whether the team played by league rules and whether the player was honest with his former team.

Who's telling the truth?

Maybe the old Clairol slogan was right — only the hairdresser knows for sure.

Did Brand reach a verbal agreement with the Clippers, then do an about face? Did Los Angeles violate the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by negotiating directly with Brand, without his agent present? Did the Clippers try to low-ball their All-Star forward? Depends on whom you ask.

Clippers' coach Mike Dunleavy is blaming agent David Falk for talking Brand out of re-signing with the Clippers. Brand opted out of his contract with L.A., but was expected to re-sign once the Clippers acquired Baron Davis from Golden State. Instead, Brand inked a five-year, $80 million deal with Philadelphia for what Falk claims is $20 million more than the Clippers offered.

Business is business.

Meanwhile, Falk says the Clippers likely violated the CBA by skirting him and negotiating privately with Brand.

Brand says his intention was to stay in L.A., but when he requested the contract language be changed, negotiations collapsed like, well, the Clippers in March.

Suddenly, L.A.'s underdog team was doing a double-take and saying, "Whaaaaat? We thought you said you liked it here!"

Brand's response: He did, but things changed.

In 2004, Boozer was a restricted free agent. Cleveland agreed not to pick up the option year on his contract, which would have paid him $695,000. The understanding was that Boozer would then sign a six-year, $42 million contract with the Cavaliers. Instead, he signed with the Jazz, who paid him $26 million more.

Boozer said there was no agreement with the Cavs, but if so, why would Cleveland risk losing him by not exercising its option? At the same time, if Boozer and the Cavaliers had concocted such a deal before July 1 — which many suspect happened — the team violated CBA rules.

Some liars' pants were on fire.

Now Dunleavy and Falk are trading accusations, and it's debatable whether Brand is a two-faced fink or a savvy businessman.

In both Boozer's and Brand's case, they signed for far more with their new team than their old team was offering. The typical scenario goes like this: Free agent period nears. Player says he wants to stay with current team. Current team thinks they have a deal. Player signs with someone else for more than he was being offered. Shunned team claims chicanery. Player says he's only doing what's best for his family. Player and/or agent accuses former team of breaking CBA rules.

The main difference between the sagas is that in the uproar over Boozer's move, his agent resigned. Brand and Falk remain, well, thick as thieves.

If all this seems unseemly, that's how it goes in contract negotiations. Truth is in the eyes of the beholder.

The disconcerting thing for Jazz fans is that Boozer can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Which promises more drama. Maybe there will be a deal in place to keep him in Utah and then maybe there won't. It could turn into Elton Brand II.

That's the thing nowadays — "done deal" just doesn't mean what used to.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com