The paper, citing two sources familiar with the discussions, reported late Sunday the deal would cost the Clippers center Chris Kaman, backup guard Eric Bledsoe, second-year forward Al-Farouq Aminu and Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 No. 1 pick.
The report said both parties were in the final stages of negotiations and that the NBA will likely review the deal on Monday.
The Clippers know that Paul is unlikely to sign an extension with any team that trades for him because the rules in place in the NBA’s new labor agreement make it more advantageous for top stars to play the season out and then sign a longer deal in free agency, even if they’re staying with the same team. But sources told ESPN.com earlier Sunday that the Clippers, in one scenario, merely wanted Paul to pick up the 2012-13 contract option at the time of the trade — thus delaying his free agency by one year — if they would cede one of their two most prized trade assets for Paul: Eric Gordon or a future No. 1 draft pick.
In a similar situation in February, Mo Williamsagreed to pick up his option for the 2011-12 season to clinch the Clippers’ deal with Cleveland that swapped Williams for Baron Davis. Sources said earlier Sunday that the Clippers — if Paul agreed to do the same — would be willing to reverse their previous stance and send either Gordon or the Minnesota pick to the Hornets because they’d know that Paul would be in place next to Griffin for at least two seasons, removing the threat of trading for Paul and then watching him leave in free agency in July.
ESPN.com reported late Saturday that the Clippers had emerged as the “early front-runner” in the race to land Paul after the frustrated Lakers finally withdrew from three-team talks with the Hornets and Houston Rockets. One source close to the situation said early Sunday that New Orleans had asked the Clippers for Gordon, Kaman, Bledsoe, Aminu and at least two future first-round picks in exchange for Paul.
Sources say that the Clippers, meanwhile, are quietly confident that having Paul for the next two seasons will ultimately lead to a long-term arrangement, especially if L.A. manages to sign Griffin to an extension next summer. ESPN.com reported earlier this week that Gordon and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry are the players most coveted by New Orleans in a potential Paul deal, but the Warriors have been pessimistic about getting the assurances about the future they need from Paul to surrender Curry.
The Hornets remain under pressure to find a palatable deal for Paul, who can become a free agent in July 2012 and has already told the franchise that he does not intend to sign an extension. In addition to New Orleans’ natural desire to find a new home for Paul as quickly as possible to avoid the sort of soap opera that engulfed the Denver Nuggets last season until they traded Carmelo Anthony in February, league officials now technically in charge of the Hornets also know that the union has hinted at soon pursuing legal action on Paul’s behalf if a new trade is not hashed out.
Paul spoke extensively with the union on Thursday, after Stern squashed the original three-team trade, about what legal options were available. The union planned to speak with Paul Sunday to gauge how he wants to go forward and how vigorously he may want to fight the league’s ruling, sources said.
While Paul is despondent, sources say he also understands that a drawn-out battle with the league, whether in the courts or elsewhere, could lead to a heavy public backlash in New Orleans. But there is also a push within the union to sue the NBA if no trade is consummated by Monday, with possible claims of circumvention or collusion.
New Orleans officials are likewise crestfallen by the NBA’s steady refusal to sign off on any trade construction presented by the Hornets, Rockets and Lakers that would have landed Paul in L.A. next to Kobe Bryant after NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed the teams’ original trade Thursday.
The Clippers, at least, remain a very plausible trade partner for Paul, given all the young assets possessed by the Lakers’ Staples Center co-tenants. Sources say that Aminu, Bledsoe and the expiring contract of Kaman are among the pieces that have been made available to New Orleans this week.
Paul has known from the start that a trade to the Knicks was virtually impossible because of New York’s limited trade assets beyond star forwards Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. The recent arrival of Tyson Chandler in free agency has enabled New York to offer a package centered around Stoudemire for Paul, but sources say that the league-owned Hornets have no interest in taking such a risk, given the fact that Stoudemire’s massive contract signed last summer with the Knicks could not be fully insured because of his longstanding knee troubles.