SALT LAKE CITY - Elton Brand sends his regrets. He will not be in Los Angeles with the 76ers tonight to face the Los Angeles Clippers, his employers for the seven previous seasons.

But Brand, rehabbing from his dislocated right shoulder in the Philadelphia area, did send along e-mail Christmas greetings to Mike Dunleavy, his former coach. In fact, they exchanged very pleasant holiday greetings.

In the light of Brand leaving in free agency after last season, signing with the Sixers in what became a contentious situation with the Clippers, should that come as a surprise? Wasn't it Dunleavy who, at the time, said, "I don't know what poisoned him against us?"

"You shouldn't be surprised," Brand said in a telephone interview with the Daily News. "The NBA is a business, but there are personal relationships, too. It was just 'Merry Christmas.' "

And . . .

"I joked, I said I was playing in the game [tonight]," Brand said.

And if he were wearing a Sixers uniform tonight, what might he have expected from the Clippers crowd?

"I think definitely some fans would give a warm response," he replied. "But the majority would be a cold response, boos, maybe every time I touched the ball. I was ready for that."

Dunleavy, who doubles as the Clippers' general manager, told the Los Angeles Times: "I don't know, it's one of those things where it depends on the perception. He had a lot of great times here. Obviously, I talked to him at Christmas. We communicated, e-mailed each other."

Brand opted out of the final season of his Clippers contract to sign a 5-year contract with the Sixers worth $79.8 million. He might well have eventually gotten something similar from the Clippers, and he was offered about $90 million by the Golden State Warriors.

The two-time All-Star power forward decided instead to come East, in part because he liked the Sixers' play down the stretch of last season, in part because it's much closer to his family's home in Peekskill, N.Y.

"No second thoughts, no regrets," Brand said. "Both teams [the Clippers and Sixers] are struggling, them much more than us. But I'm in it for the long haul. I didn't expect to win the championship overnight. I signed up for the long term."

The Clippers, by the way, have had a much greater struggle than the Sixers. Their latest setback in what has been an 8-21 season, going into last night's game at Sacramento, involves Ricky Davis being suspended for five games for a violation of the league's anti-drug policy. That was complicated because Davis has been out with tendinitis in his knees; the suspension will not take effect until the first game for which he is healthy and eligible to play. Either way, he will not play tonight.

The Clippers were already without Zach Randolph, because of a bruised left knee, and Chris Kaman, with a strained left arch. They were sufficiently shorthanded the other day, requiring assistant coach Fred Vinson to participate in practice. They also quickly signed guard Fred Jones, who was with the New York Knicks last season.

And if all of that wasn't enough, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Jackson told the Contra Costa Times that he was proclaiming himself the president of a club to bring back Baron Davis.

Jackson said he visited with Davis in Los Angeles, and said, "That's all we talked about . . . He wants to come back. And if he wants to come back, I want him back."

Davis opted out of the last season of his contract with the Warriors to sign a 5-year, $65 million deal with the Clippers, ostensibly to play with Brand.

"No, I don't want out," Davis told the Contra Costa Times. "I don't know what Stephen Jackson got from my conversation. That never came out of my mouth . . . In no way, shape or form am I ready to jump ship."

Six shots

The Sixers will complete their six-game trek with games Friday night in Dallas and Saturday night in San Antonio. They return to the Wachovia Center on Jan. 6 against Houston, then play Jan. 7 in Milwaukee. *

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