The New Orleans Hornets continue to ask for guard Eric Gordon and the unprotected first-round Draft pick originally from the Timberwolves as the central assets in a potential deal with the Clippers for Chris Paul, a league source told TNT’s David Aldridge Wednesday morning. But the Clippers remain adamant that the Hornets cannot have both Gordon and the pick and must choose between the two.
The standoff is the major impediment in a possible trade between the two teams. While the Hornets are having discussions with other teams about their four-time All-Star guard, including the Lakers, the Clippers’ group of assets remains the most desirable and the one that New Orleans wants. The Clippers have committed to including center Chris Kaman and second-year forward Al-Farouq Aminu in the trade, and Monday’s claim of guard Chauncey Billups off waivers makes second-year guard Eric Bledsoe eminently tradeable. But the Gordon/pick problem remains.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are again trying to get involved for Paul, and are now using Pau Gasol as the primary piece of the deal to the Hornets. Last week’s aborted three-team deal between the Lakers, Rockets and Hornets had Gasol going to Houston, and Lamar Odom joining Rockets players Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic in New Orleans. But the league vetoed that deal at the last minute, with speculation rampant that the NBA — which owns the Hornets — bowed to pressure from owners of other teams who did not want the big-revenue Lakers again profiting by getting a star player from a small market.
NBA Commissioner David Stern cited “basketball reasons” for the league’s decision to turn the trade down. The league, through vice president Stu Jackson and president of league and basketball operations Joel Litvin, is directly involved in trade discussions with other teams, along with Hornets’ management.
In the new scenario, Gasol would go to New Orleans — after which, according to the source, he would almost certainly be re-routed elsewhere for other assets, most notably more Draft picks for the Hornets. (One place that would not be is Boston; New Orleans does not have interest in a potential Celtics package involving guard Rajon Rondo, according to the source, who also dismissed reports on Tuesday that the Hornets would be interested in taking guard Mo Williams from the Clippers in exchange for forward Trevor Ariza.)
The Hornets are still exchanging ideas with other teams, including the Golden State Warriors, who are willing to make a deal for Paul even though he would not make a commitment to signing a contract extension with them. Paul has committed to playing out his option year with the Clippers, meaning he would be there through at least the 2012-13 season.
“Let’s be honest,” the source said. “There’s some owners who want to make a splash, and convince their fans that they want to be great. What better way to convince them than by getting Chris Paul?”
The league continues to insist that any trade for Paul puts the Hornets on a quick rebuilding path, with a combination of young players and Draft picks. That currently leaves out teams like the Rockets, who can offer good players but players who, like Scola ($39 million left on his contract) and Martin ($24 million), aren’t cheap. The league does not want to leave the post-Paul Hornets in the same relative position they are now — a team that could potentially make the playoffs, but not go very far.
This explains why New Orleans continues to ask for Gordon as well as the Minnesota pick. The Timberwolves could be bad as usual, but with a proven (945 career wins) coach in Rick Adelman, rookie forward Derrick Williams, guard Ricky Rubio and free agent J.J. Barea all arriving, the Wolves could also be much improved — maybe not a contender, but not a 20-win doormat whose pick could be counted on to be a top-five Draft selection.
“If you’re gonna be bad, you’ve got to be bad enough to get picks that will help, and not just bad enough that you’re a 10th seed (in the Western Conference).”
For their part, the Clippers are enjoying a rare moment when they have maximum leverage, and they’re not willing to relinquish it. They believe that with Billups they will be a playoff team this season and, in time, have the ability to go deep into the postseason. With Billups — who reportedly is scheduled to arrive at the team’s training camp Wednesday — the need to bring in Paul via trade is less pressing. Keeping Gordon is central to the team’s argument to its own budding superstar, Blake Griffin, that the Clippers will surround him with enough quality players to contend, and to make him comfortable enough to sign a long-term extension in the coming months.