It seems like the Clippers may have blinked in their negotiations with the Celtics, and you know what? It's all good. Here's what seems to be happening at this point in the whirlwind of activity that is the Clippers and Celtics trade talks.
Talks broke off yesterday over the inclusion of an additional first round draft pick in the proposed transactions. The Clippers were willing to part with one first round draft pick -- the Celtics wanted two.
The Clippers reengaged talks this afternoon, partially at the behest of star free agent Chris Paul. Paul apparently wants the deal done, wants to play for Rivers and with Garnett, and would definitely re-sign if the deal were to get done. Given this factor, the Clippers seem willing to relent on the inclusion of the second draft pick.
Officially, these are two separate transactions -- DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett, and draft picks in consideration for the Celtics releasing Doc Rivers from the non-compete in his contract. The NBA does not allow coaches to be involved in trades for players, but it does recognize considerations such as draft picks and cash. As part of the Jordan-Garnett trade, the Clippers will pay $3.5MM for the trade-kicker in Jordan's contract (a little present from the Golden State Warriors offer sheet to Jordan back in 2010). The Clippers will sign Rivers to a five year contract worth at least $7MM per season -- with incentives, it could be worth even more. Rivers will remain the highest paid coach in the league -- so much for the "Sterling is cheap" trope.
As of this point, the primary negotiators (Danny Ainge of the Celtics and Gary Sacks of the Clippers) seem to be in agreement over the outline of the deal. The Clippers are getting owner Donald Sterling's final approval of the deal tonight and assuming he signs off on it, it will be submitted to the league.
The league will still have to approve the deal, which may be slightly more complicated than with some other deals, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne. The complicating factor is that the league does not allow separate deals to be contingent on each other. In other words, the league must be convinced that these are legitimately two stand alone transactions -- a trade of Garnett for Jordan and the Celtcis releasing Rivers for draft pick considerations. The truth is that Rivers and Garnett are happier moving together -- and both of them fully expect Paul to re-sign as well. The league knows that as well as anyone -- but the deals are also reasonable on their own, and it's hard to imagine the league maintaining otherwise. It's not in anyone's interest that they block the deal -- there's no victim here.
Unrelated to these transactions per se is the status of Paul Pierce. The final year of Pierce's $15.3MM contract will only cost the Celtics $5MM if he's bought out before June 30; with Garnett and Rivers apparently gone, there's almost no chance that Pierce will be a Celtic next season. Whether they buy him out, or manage to trade him, and whether that trade partner buys him out, will not be known until it's done. But odds are that Pierce will be a free agent on July 1, and if that happens, he will almost certainly be a Clipper on July 8 (when the moratorium ends) for the mid level exception.
It has seemed clear for several days that this was a win-win scenario for both teams. There's been plenty of posturing and gamesmanship, and it is a complex transaction after all. But as we suspected all along, it seems to be getting done.