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Trade Rumors: Paul to the Clippers - Is EJ in Play?

Welcome to the post lockout, post-twitterverse NBA. Where the business of 5 months has to be conducted in about a week, and news breaks every second, and every reporter has a different source, and different sources have different agendas.

This story has come full circle in less than a week (it was last Monday afternoon that the Los Angeles Clippers were considered a front runner to land Chris Paul the first time, since which time he's been traded to the Lakers, not traded to the Lakers, camps have started, lawsuits have been threatened, and now we're back to Paul to the Clippers). Late Sunday night, Clippers LA Times beat reporter broke the story that the rumored deal was close to done: the Clippers and Hornets had reportedly negotiated a trade of Chris Kaman, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Minnesota's unprotected 2012 pick for Chris Paul. This was perceived as a major coup for the Clippers - to have gotten New Orleans to agree to the deal without including coveted shooting guard Eric Gordon. Or course, the league as current owners of the Hornets, would still have to sign off on the deal - no small feat given that David Stern nixed what appeared to be a great trade on Thursday.

This morning comes a different version of events. Chris Broussard and Marc Stein of ESPN insists that Eric Gordon IS included in the trade and that the current sticking point is whether or not Eric Bledsoe is also included. Several other heavyweights of NBA journalism (in particular Adrian Wojnarowski and Ken Berger) have aligned to contradict that version, stating that Gordon is definitely not part of the deal. Broussard however is sticking to his guns: he says Gordon is on the table, and that the reason other sources are stating differently is because the Clippers are desperate to keep Gordon's name out of the process in case it all falls apart, for fear of the impact the trade talk might have on his psyche.

The Broussard/Stein story was first submitted around 6:30 AM pacific time, and as I'm writing this I notice that there is an updated version at 9:45 AM. The original story (no longer available as it has been updated) made little sense as it made no attempt to explain the highly newsworthy revelation that Gordon was included: the Clippers had long insisted that he was off-limits. The updated version elaborates on the theory that the Clippers are trying to keep Gordon's names out of the discussion, which is causing the confusion over the specifics of the deal.

There's still a seeming logical disconnect in ESPN's version of events. Why would the Hornets make such a fuss over Bledsoe if indeed they have Gordon AND the Minnesota pick already? That deal is far better than anything else they could hope to get for a Chris Paul who is nearing his expiration date in New Orleans. Broussard also sent out a tweet saying that the Hornets also want another pick in the deal.

All of which seems a bit too plausible, if you consider that David Stern is now on the other side of the negotiating table. Stern, in case you haven't been paying attention the last few months, is a bully - and he may be trying to bully the Clippers here. Which, if indeed it is happening, is a massive conflict of interest once again. This is the most powerful man in the NBA - telling Neil Olshey exactly what he wants in this deal. What are the potential ramifications for Olshey if he says "No"?

Which is what he should say. Including Gordon and the Minnesota pick as perfectly reasonable for a talent on Paul's level. In a vacuum, I would do that trade. BUT, this isn't a vacuum. New Orleans has NO leverage here. They aren't currently speaking to any other suitors. Other rumored suitors don't seem to have a deal as good as the one the Clippers are offering even without Gordon. The Clippers are bidding against themselves - Stern can say no, it's not enough, but then he faces the very real risk of losing Paul for nothing next summer. Who will get more desperate to get a deal done as the trade deadline approaches, the Hornets (watching their franchise implode) or the Clippers (watching a very promising team while sitting on a high lottery pick)? The Clippers will have a full team at their practice today - the Hornets have basically nothing. In this game of chicken, Olshey doesn't need to blink because he's the one with options.

But then we get back to that conflict of interest. Does the GM of the LA Clippers play hardball with the commissioner of the NBA? It was never ideal for the NBA to own a franchise in it's own league - the last week, it's been a disaster.

I assume this will be resolved one way or the other before too long. Stay tuned.

[Note by Steve Perrin, 12/12/11 10:38 AM PST ] Both Broussard and Woj have tweeted in the last hour that the deal may be dying. The NBA's price is just too steep right now. If that is correct, that's fine. Let them stew a bit longer.