Something Clips should know about Smith

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
3:43
AM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
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It never takes long in the Twitterverse.

Jason Smith nailed Blake Griffin with what looked like a bounty-inspired bodycheck in the open floor Thursday night and, within seconds, Twitter quipsters were asking each other when Smith started getting his checks from the New Orleans Saints instead of the Hornets.

However …

Rightfully enraged as the Clippers were by a hit that got Smith suspended Friday for two games -- especially since he had the gall to wave his arms and milk the crowd's applause after getting ejected for a zero-percent play on the ball -- perhaps they’ll be a touch less furious when they hear this.

How Smith, in his own small way, unwittingly tried to help the Clippers land Chris Paul in December.

It’s certainly conceivable that NBA commissioner David Stern, essentially acting as the lead decision-maker for the league-owned Hornets, would have decided to veto the original three-team CP3 trade sending Paul to the Lakers instead of the Clippers under any circumstances.

Yet one source close to the talks insists that the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets were still searching for a consensus on the last piece of the trade framework needed to satisfy league salary-cap regulations when news of the trade began to spread.

And sources say that’s partly because Smith didn’t accept the sign-and-trade terms that were presented when he was asked to be part of the swap.

The principal pieces of the original three-team deal were indeed all agreed to: Paul would be going to Lakers, Pau Gasol was bound for Houston and New Orleans would be receiving Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic along with a 2012 first-round draft pick from the Rockets that had been previously acquired from the New York Knicks. But based on that trade construction, sources say that the Lakers would have been forced to absorb another $3 million more in salary to make the cap math work.

The teams involved concluded that the best way to solve that issue would be for the Hornets to sign and trade Smith to the Lakers as part of the exchange. The Lakers, however, were only prepared to guarantee the first year of the three-year deal required in all sign-and-trades. Sources say Smith promptly rejected that offer, believing he should hold out for a longer-team deal, then had his decision vindicated when the Hornets later offered him a three-year deal worth $7.5 million with the first two years fully guaranteed.

Another option discussed, sources said, called for the Hornets to pull in Marcus Banks from oblivion and sign-and-trade Banks to the Lakers. Sources close to the process maintain that the Lakers, to this day, believe that at least two versions of the deal would have been acceptable to all three teams and that "either way there was a deal" presented to Stern for his signoff.
The belief likewise persists around the league that rival owners fuming about the prospect of an NBA-run franchise sending another superstar to Kobe Bryant’s team, on the heels of a long and bitter lockout that was supposed to deliver better competitive balance, are what influenced the commissioner’s decision to intervene more than anything … despite his stern denials to the contrary. Just as plausible is the notion that Stern was put off by the long-term contracts New Orleans were poised to take back in the Lakers/Rockets offer in fear that they might turn off potential buyers.

What we know for sure is that Stern, citing those infamously vague “basketball reasons” to explain his decision, did nix that three-teamer and told the Hornets’ basketball people to keep trying to strike a palatable Paul deal. Which opened the door for the Clippers to swoop in a few days later and swing the biggest trade in the franchise’s post-Buffalo history.

So if the Smith wrinkle played any part in slowing things down and steering CP3 back to the open market, maybe they’ll forgive him in Clipperland.

Someday.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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