UPDATED 12:01 p.m. ET
The Clippers were still resisting overtures for a Chris Paul trade Tuesday after the talks were revived for the second time in 24 hours under pressure from the league office to reach a resolution, sources told CBSSports.com.
Having claimed veteran point guard Chauncey Billups off amnesty waivers as a possible precursor to the deal, the Clippers nonetheless were under no pressure to dive back into the talks. The league office, which is assisting the Hornets in the trade discussions in its role as the de factor owner of the team, already has nixed a trade that would've sent Paul to the Lakers. The Knicks used what few assets and cap maneuverability they had to get free-agent center Tyson Chandler, and Paul has not indicated a willingness to give a long-term commitment as part of a trade to the Golden State Warriors.
"They have no choice" but to make sure Paul is traded to the Clippers, a person on the periphery of the talks said Monday night.
The talks that would never die were revived Monday night, with a twist that was enraging some rival general managers. The Clippers' winning waiver claim on Billups allowed them to include point guard Eric Bledsoe in the deal, which observers believed could push it over the finish line, league sources told CBSSports.com.
By claiming Billups for about $2 million, the Clippers were able to solve the dilemma of not having another point guard on the roster -- Mo Williams likely slides into the Jason Terry sixth man role, if he isn't included in the trade or waived with amnesty. Thus, L.A. could responsibly include Bledsoe in a blockbuster package for Paul.
The fact that Paul is dictating the terms by limiting the teams he'd agree to stay at least two years with to those that reside in L.A., Clippers GM Neil Olshey has plenty of leverage. So Olshey's resistance to including Bledsoe, sharpshooting guard Eric Gordon and the Timberwolves' unprotected 2012 first-round pick is no longer an issue. The deal, if finally consummated, will be better than what the league was demanding earlier in the day, when the Clippers wisely walked away from the talks.
Nonetheless, the Clippers were signaling to rival teams that they've "moved on" from the Paul saga and already had reached out to Billups in an effort to assure him his status as a leader and intergral part of the team were secure, sources said. Another person tied to the talks said he does not believe the league wants Paul traded out of New Orleans, where prospective owners are being sought to rescue the troubled franchise.
"Seems like a charade to me," the person said.
That set up a fascinating duel of who has the leverage and whether the franchise would be more valuable with or without Paul. In rejecting the three-team trade with the Lakers and Rockets, the league office obviously was saying that the franchise would be better off keeping Paul than trading him for veteran players Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic, plus draft picks. A package from the Clippers including Chris Kaman's expiring $12 million contract, Al-Farouq Aminu, Bledsoe and either Eric Gordon or the Timberwolves' unprotected 2012 first-round pick would seem to allow the Hornets to rebuild with prospects and picks -- which certainly would be preferable to Paul leaving as a free agent after the season with the Hornets getting nothing in return.
Paul's options, however, would be somewhat limited since the major-market teams he prefers are mostly capped out next summer, starting with his preferred destination, the Knicks. Paul would, however, have the option of going to Dallas, or to Brooklyn if Deron Williams opted out and decided to sign with his hometown Mavericks. Both players would have to take one year and about $25 million less than their current teams would be able to offer them under the new collective bargaining agreement.
The Paul negotiations were declared dead earlier Monday, after which Olshey spoke with the Los Angeles media and said, "We felt it was in the best interest of the team to keep this roster intact." But rival executives were circulating this conspiracy theory Monday night: Was it a coincidence that the Clippers were able to get Billups for $2 million when they were negotiating a related trade with the league office, which knew the competing bids? The salacious banter was perpetuated by the conflict of interest inherent in the NBA's handling of the trade for the Hornets, who were taken over by the league in December 2010.
A previous deal sending Paul to the Lakers was nixed by the league office in its role as overseer for the Hornets' personnel moves when commissioner David Stern and executives Joel Litvin and Stu Jackson determined that the package of players New Orleans was getting from the Lakers and Rockets wasn't acceptable. While rival GMs saw little problem with a package of Odom, Scola, Martin, Dragic and draft picks, the league wanted younger prospects and draft picks instead -- a package closer to what the Clippers have to offer, which would be more attractive to prospective buyers.
While it was understood that Paul would gladly sign a new five-year, $100 million contract next July with the Lakers if traded there, his commitment to the Clippers would only be for two years. As part of the deal, Paul would not promise to sign a new contract, only that he would not opt out of his current one after the season, sources said. That, and the league's limited options for trade partners, compressed the list of assets the Clippers were willing to give up.
The two-year period would give Paul time to survey the landscape in Clipperland and determine what notoriously penny-pinching owner Donald Sterling would do in two years with an $11 million center (DeAndre Jordan, whose four-year, $43 million offer sheet from Golden State was matched Monday); a 30 percent max player under the new rules in Blake Griffin; a close-to-max player in Gordon, if he stays; and himself. Those are a lot of big bills for the Donald, and Paul would need assurances that the Clippers are going to fully capitalize on their unique position of talent and cap flexibility and stop being second-class citizens to the Lakers at Staples Center.
As for Billups, a proud champion who'd warned teams not to claim him so he could pick his own team as an unrestricted free agent, does it make sense for him to spend perhaps the final year of his career on the Clippers' bench, watching Paul dribble between his legs and throw alley-oop passes to Griffin?
"That is not the league's concern," said a rival executive who is upset about the arrangement.
In finding the Billups solution to getting the Paul deal a chance to be completed, the league also sent a letter to Billups' agent, Andy Miller, warning him that there could be consequences if Billups caused problems for a team that claimed him off waivers, Yahoo Sports reported. Billups was waived with the amnesty provision by the Knicks to create room for a sign-and-trade arrangement that landed free-agent center Tyson Chandler in New York. Billups' $14.2 million salary came off the Knicks' books for cap and tax purposes, and the actual financial obligation to New York is offset by the $2 million that will be paid by the Clippers.
In a cruel double-whammy, Billups would become a pawn in delivering a superstar to a major market for the secod time in 10 months if the Paul-to-Clippers deal went down. In February, Billups was a necessary piece that facilitated the trade of Carmelo Anthony from Denver to the Knicks in another saga in which a star player threatened to bolt as a free agent if he wasn't traded to the team of his choice.
"I'm tired of being viewed as the good guy," Billups told Yahoo Saturday. "After a while, you just kind of get taken advantage of in these situations."