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The Los Angeles Clippers and the Boston Celtics have formally opened serious discussions on multiple transactions that potentially could add up to a seismic trade arrangement that ultimately lands Celtics stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and coach Doc Rivers in L.A., according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com the Clippers are concurrently weighing the prospect of offering star forward Blake Griffin in tandem with prized young guard Eric Bledsoe to the Los Angeles Lakers in a sign-and-trade pitch to land Dwight Howard after July 1.
The initial talks with Boston, sources said Saturday, are focused on the Clippers satisfying Boston's compensation demands to let Rivers out of his lucrative contract and corresponding trade proposals aimed at bringing Garnett to town with Rivers.
The Clippers, sources said, are willing to surrender cash and multiple draft picks to secure Rivers' services and offer young center DeAndre Jordan as the primary piece in a deal in exchange for Garnett.
But sources said Saturday the Clippers, at present, are refusing to include the highly coveted Bledsoe with Jordan in the same trade in hopes of keeping Bledsoe for a separate transaction.
Sources say the Clippers want to keep open the option that they could package Bledsoe with Griffin in a sign-and-trade offer for Howard after the Lakers' center becomes a free agent on July 1. ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Friday that Howard and Clippers star Chris Paul have been in consistent contact in recent weeks in hopes of landing on the same team via free agency.
The Clippers, furthermore, also have made Bledsoe their centerpiece of recent trade discussions with the Orlando Magic aimed at acquiring swingman Arron Afflalo.
All of these potential transactions, sources say, are part of the Clippers' intent, as reported Thursday by ESPN.com, to be "very aggressive" and "shake every tree" in an attempt to upgrade the roster to the point that Paul not only re-signs when he becomes a free agent on July 1 but that they are an unquestioned championship contender.
In the wake of ESPN.com's report earlier this week that Rivers and the Clippers have mutual interest in the event the Celtics' coach parts ways with Boston, sources say the Clippers are determined to try to acquire both Garnett and Pierce if Rivers indeed became available.
The Boston Herald reported on its web site Saturday afternoon that the two teams are "now engaged in talks involving Doc Rivers and players" and -- while acknowledging that many hurdles must be cleared -- also cited "significant impetus from both sides to find common ground."
In confirming the Herald's report to ESPN.com, one source with knowledge of the talks said Saturday that, because Pierce can be bought out of his 2013-14 contract this month for a mere $5 million, his inclusion in the discussions would likely come after the Rivers and Garnett elements are sorted out.
It also remains possible, sources said, that either the Celtics or the Clippers could elect to walk away from the talks next week if deals for Rivers and Garnett can't be struck, with L.A. then expected to hire one of the three finalists for their coaching job while also potentially pursuing Howard via sign-and-trade. The Clippers interviewed Brian Shaw, Byron Scott and Lionel Hollins this week, with sources saying Saturday that Hollins has emerged as the frontrunner from that group.
The Celtics, sources say, are asking for "a lot" of compensation for Rivers, which has given the Clippers pause. The Clippers, as one source put it, are determined "not to mortgage the farm" to land Rivers because they feel strongly about Hollins, who was brought back Friday for a second straight day of interviews with team officials.
After Boston's elimination from the playoffs, Celtics officials initially had denied multiple requests from the Clippers for permission to speak to Rivers. Until Saturday the Celtics had shown little inclination to back off their desire to convince their highly coveted coach to come back to the Boston bench next season.
Rivers has been deliberating about his future for weeks, with ESPN reporting Thursday that the 51-year-old feels it "may be time for a change," after nine seasons coaching the Celtics.
The growing belief in coaching circles is Rivers' indecision about definitively stating his desire to return to the Boston bench next season stems from his hope that he can convince Celtics president Danny Ainge not to blow up the roster and launch a full-fledged rebuilding project around point guard Rajon Rondo to instead keep the core of the team together. Sources close to the situation said earlier this week the Celtics want Rivers to stay and would have high compensation demands -- in the form of future draft picks and cash -- to allow him out of the remaining three years and $21 million on his contract to coach another NBA team next season.
It's likewise believed the Celtics' trio all prefer to carry on in Boston for one more season, but sources say they have undeniable interest in the idea of teaming up with the Clippers if it can't happen with the Celtics. The Clippers privately see themselves as well positioned to resurrect the trade discussions the two teams had in February should Boston decide that it's not prepared to bring back Pierce and Garnett.
ESPN.com reported Thursday the Celtics and Clippers, as an offshoot of their Garnett-to-L.A. trade talks that ultimately fizzled, also discussed trade scenarios before the Feb. 21 trade deadline in which the Clippers would receive both Garnett and Pierce.
Garnett, like Rivers, has not yet committed to come back next season, but sources say the likelihood of the 37-year-old agreeing to play one more season with the Celtics increases significantly if Pierce's option is picked up and they receive assurances they'll get one more season together. Garnett has a no-trade clause in his contract, but neither the Celtics nor the Clippers regard that as any sort of obstacle if Rivers goes to L.A., given the close relationship between Rivers and Garnett.
The Celtics have to decide by the end of June whether to assume the full $15.3 million Pierce is scheduled to make in 2013-14 or buy him out for $5 million. Another option for Boston is trying to trade Pierce in conjunction with this month's draft. But Pierce's stature in the organization after his role in helping the Celtics end a 21-season title drought as part of their championship team in 2008 is such that Ainge almost would certainly try to help Pierce get to the team of his choosing if the Celtics indeed decide that they want to go young.
Rivers signed a five-year, $35 million extension after the 2010-11 season and said he was committed to the potential long-term reshaping of Boston's roster. After the New York Knicks eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Rivers said of his future: "I'm coming back until I say I'm not."
The Herald report quoted a source in its report saying: "If [the Celtics] can't work things out with the Clippers, then Doc would have no problem going back and coaching. He just wants to make sure that if he does go, the Celtics come out of it stronger."
Information from ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard was used in this report.