Sources: Teams revisit Chris Paul deal

Updated: December 10, 2011, 4:19 PM ET
By Chris Broussard and Marc Stein | ESPN.com

After a long day on the phones for the three teams trying to salvage their Chris Paul blockbuster deal, sources close to the process told ESPN.com officials involved in the talks were cautiously optimistic that a reworked trade framework will be ready to be presented to NBA commissioner David Stern for approval, perhaps as soon as Saturday.

The exact tweaks to the original trade were not immediately known, but sources told ESPN.com the teams were working through the night to try to make amendments to the deal that would satisfy the league's desire to see more youth or draft picks going to the Hornets in the deal.

The NBA on Friday afternoon gave the league-owned Hornets clearance to re-open conversations with all teams about possible deals, one day after Stern nixed the trade agreed to in principle Thursday that would have landed Paul with the Lakers, Pau Gasol with the Rockets and given the Hornets three new starters: Kevin Martin, Lamar Odom and Luis Scola.

Sources close to the talks told ESPN.com earlier Friday that the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets were hopeful of reconfiguring the Hornets' haul in the trade to the point that Stern, after absorbing heavy and widespread criticism for intervening, signs off this time.

By Friday afternoon, New Orleans had re-engaged the Lakers and Rockets to try to make the needed changes to a trade that would have also delivered guard Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick to New Orleans.

"Yes, we've been given autonomy to make another trade," Hornets general manager Dell Demps told reporters at an early evening news conference. "We're back to work and everything is on the table."

"We're back to work and everything is on the table."

That was evident hours later when NBA.com reported that the Hornets were close to a sign-and-trade deal that would send David West to the Boston Celtics. That trade will also require the final approval of Stern, but sources indicate that the Hornets would likely receive the expiring contracts of Jermaine O'Neal and Sasha Pavlovic and a future first-round pick for West, who would receive a three-year deal from Boston worth nearly 30 million.

Back to the Paul front, sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the National Basketball Players Association has decided not to take immediate action on behalf of the All-Star guard. The union will instead wait to see if the league-owned Hornets can concoct a trade by Monday that the league will approve that also sends Paul to a destination he welcomes.

If no such trade is made by Monday, sources said, union officials will then consider other options, including litigation.

"We'll continue to monitor the situation, and it seems to change every few minutes. It's hard to say what decisions will be made until this thing plays itself out, because there's so much at stake for so many different players and teams involved," NBPA president and Lakers point guard Derek Fisher said. "Hopefully a solution is found sooner rather than later."

He added: "I disagree with the NBA or commissioner Stern or the owners' ability to hold up a trade in the fashion that they have."

ESPN.com reported earlier Friday that the teams involved in the blocked deal were lobbying the league in hopes of convincing Stern to reverse the decision and let the trade go through. But it's apparent that Stern is unlikely to change his mind unless changes are made to the original three-team framework.

"I wish he stayed (in New Orleans)," Demps said of Paul. "I'm not going to lie about it. But it is what is."

In a statement released Friday, Stern said the "final responsibility for significant management decisions lies with the commissioner's office in consultation with team chairman Jac Sperling."

"All decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the Hornets," Stern said. "In the case of the trade proposal that was made to the Hornets for Chris Paul, we decided, free from the influence of other NBA owners, that the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade."

There is no formal appeals process to reverse the ruling. The teams, however, began lobbying the NBA to reconsider early Friday.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Thursday the deal was blocked for "basketball reasons."

The primary argument being presented to the league office for allowing the deal to go through -- as agreed to in principle by the Hornets, Lakers and Houston Rockets -- is that the NBA's decision would appear to force the Hornets to keep Paul for the rest of the season, despite the fact he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent July 1 and leave New Orleans without compensation.

A trade of Paul elsewhere, according to the teams' argument, would mean Stern and the league are choosing where Paul would play.

Odom, who would've been sent to New Orleans had the trade gone through, said he was disoriented by the deal and didn't know how to proceed. It looked as if he had made up his mind to stay away from training camp, but he did end up showing Friday. Odom talked to GM Mitch Kupchak. He said he might not be coming back.

"To me, I would think it's better to stay away," Odom told The Los Angeles Times on Friday afternoon. "You know, the energy and all.

"I don't know how it's going to go right now. It's a little weird."

The general reaction among rival executives was that Demps did as well as he could under the circumstances after Paul told the Hornets on Monday he would not sign a contract extension and instead planned to become a free agent July 1.

But Stern stepped in to nix the swap and leave all three teams with shell-shocked players and officials heading into Friday's start of training camps, after the commissioner insisted for months that Demps and the rest of the team's front office had autonomy over basketball decisions. Sources close to the situation said Demps and teams that have pursued Paul had been assured the Hornets had the clearance to trade Paul as they saw fit.

In an email to Stern obtained by multiple media outlets, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert called the proposed deal "a travesty" and urged Stern to put the deal to a vote of "the 29 owners of the Hornets," referring to the rest of the league's teams.

Numerous sources close to the process expressed skepticism that the deal has a chance of being revived, amid a growing sense the league is now determined to keep Paul in New Orleans for an unspecified length of time -- perhaps even for the entire season -- to support the notion that lockout wasn't for naught and that the new labor deal has improved small-market teams' ability to retain star players.

The problem there, of course, is that the Hornets -- believing they had avoided the drama that engulfed the Denver Nuggets for months last season until they finally traded Carmelo Anthony -- are left with a disgruntled star who can still opt out of his contract and leave the franchise with nothing as of July 1.

Stern's decision to block the deal has likewise raised the question of whether New Orleans can trade Paul anywhere until a new buyer for the team is found, because any deal that does go through could create the appearance that Stern hand-picked the destination.

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who voted against the NBA's new labor deal, agreed with the league's reversal, saying it would have been hypocritical coming hours after the CBA was ratified.

"The message is we went through this lockout for a reason," Cuban said Friday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Ben and Skin Show." "Again, I'm not speaking for Stern. He's not telling me his thought process. I'm just telling you my perspective, having gone through all this. There's a reason that we went through this lockout, and one of the reasons is to give small-market teams the ability to keep their stars and the ability to compete."

Cuban has been trying for years to trade for Paul but said he would have understood the league's decision to deny a trade even if the Mavericks would have agreed to a deal to get Paul.

"I mean, obviously, I wouldn't have been happy, but I would have understood because it was a conversation a lot of owners had long before the Laker deal was consummated," Cuban said. "It was like, 'Look, sure, I'd love him. Give him to me in a heartbeat.' But the whole idea of the lockout was to prevent stuff like that.

"Players will always have the right to choose what they want to do as a free agent, but the players agreed to rules that said, 'You know what? Let's give the home team, the incumbent team an extra advantage.' And that's how the rules were designed. I think they're going to work."

Chris Broussard is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine. Marc Stein is a senior writer for ESPN.com. ESPNLosAngeles.com's Brian Kamenetzky contributed to this report.

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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