NBA Trade Rumors: Sure there's a snag, but at least it's not Sterling!

USA TODAY Sports

In the seemingly never ending struggle to get Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to LA, the transactions have hit a new roadblock, this one at the league office. It will be overcome -- but when and how is unclear.

I'm as confused as anyone as to why the league is objecting to the two, obviously separate (wink, wink) Clippers-Celtics transactions that have been submitted to them. Are the transactions related to each other? Sure. Are they contingent on each other (which would technically be illegal under league rules)? It's plenty easy to say "No" -- and how could the league prove otherwise? Whom are they protecting anyway? Is another team raising a stink? Maybe a purple and gold one? (Payback for Chris Paul! Basketball reasons!)

It was not that long ago that this same league office was approving a Mavs-Nets trade that included an "unretired" Keith Van Horn and a Lakers-Grizz trade that included Aaron McKie, an assistant coach in Philadelphia at the time. Talk about the appearance of circumventing the rules.

As has been suggested multiple times at this point, there's an easy way to prove the transactions are separate -- actually separate them. Tell the league, "Fine, approve or deny whichever one you want. We like both deals, we'll take either one -- accept or reject either one on its own merits, and we're fine with it." That would prove pretty conclusively that they're not contingent on each other, and the league would have to raise objections individually, or approve both.

The absurd part of all of this is that deals are contingent on each other all the time. In fact, trades that are announced in the media as one transaction are very frequently structured as two separate deals at the league office for salary cap purposes. In other words, the league more often creates contingent deals than it denies them. And more broadly, teams have to look at every transaction holistically -- if you trade a guard for a center, you may need to make another, separate trade, to get another guard. Life would be pretty complex for NBA GMs if they had to go into every trade facing the possibility that they couldn't do anything else related to it.

Marc Stein's latest tweet, that the Clippers and Celtics are discussing how to restructure things to pass muster with the league, is a bit confusing to me. Stein implies that the trade details may change -- that it won't end up being DeAndre Jordan and two picks.

But that makes no sense. Is the league raising issues about the appearance that the deals are connected, or about the fairness of the deals? Changing the moving pieces does nothing to prove the deals are unrelated. If there's any truth to the idea that the Clippers and Celtics are revisiting the assets in the deal, it implies the league has taken a position on the competitive aspects of the trade -- which would be highly unusual.

Fred Robledo has floated another possible explanation for the delay: Game 7 is tonight -- the league doesn't want a mega-transaction to steal their Game 7 thunder. They just want to delay things, and any objections will melt away tomorrow.

Maybe. But at the same time, if they're worried about negative impressions of the NBA, raising bizarre, mysterious objections to a highly visible trade is probably not the best way to go.

And then there is the disposition of Paul Pierce. The real contingency in all of this, the real wink, wink, nudge, nudge moment is the implicit understanding that Pierce will be waived, allowing him to become a free agent at which point he'll sign with the Clippers. Could the league be raising objections to that? I fail to see how they could though. Clearly there are no guarantees that Pierce winds up a Clipper; Boston will no doubt try to trade him first, and no one knows what will happen if they do find a taker. It's not as if Garnett and Rivers are going to say "Deal's off, the Truth didn't sign" in July. So by definition there's no contingency there, even if everyone does have their fingers crossed that it all falls into place.

The good news in all of this is that Donald Sterling did his part: he listened to his basketball people, he ponied up a pile of dough, he went all in on building a winner. Is it possible that Clipper fans will have cleared their most daunting hurdle -- only to be thwarted by the league? Stay tuned.

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