League officials representing the New Orleans Hornets and the Los Angeles Clippers continued discussions into Tuesday night on a trade that would put Chris Paul on the same team with Blake Griffin, according to sources briefed on the talks.
But the sides have yet to find a framework that satisfies both, sources said, with the NBA not relenting on its desire to acquire the Clippers' top five available trade assets in return for Paul, who would invoke the 2012-13 option in his contract as part of any trade between the teams to ensure the Clippers would have him for at least two seasons.
"They're still asking for everyone," said one source with knowledge of the Clippers' thinking.
With so much hoopla surrounding him, Paul was excused from a mandatory media appearance on Wednesday by Hornets officials.
Hornets spokesman Dennis Rogers says the decision to keep the star guard away from the event at the New Orleans Arena was mutual.
With a deal seemingly imminent, talks hit an impasse Monday when the Clippers finally decided that the league's asking price for the All-Star guard was too steep. Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers balked when the Hornets, at the league's insistence, asked for Clippers shooting guard Eric Gordon, youngsters Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe, former All-Star center Chris Kaman and Minnesota's unprotected 2012 first-round draft pick.
Sources said one of the wrinkles added to the deal in Tuesday's talks involved the inclusion of Clippers point guard Mo Williams going to the league-owned Hornets in a swap for swingman Trevor Ariza, an L.A. native. But the Clippers, feeling even stronger about their position after acquiring Chauncey Billups on Monday on a waiver claim, are insisting that the league has to scale back its demands if it wants a trade, believing that they're the only reasonable trade suitor in circulation for Paul.
The Los Angeles Lakers, however, continue to loom as a potential destination, sources said, despite their apparent exit from the Paul sweepstakes on Saturday. The Lakers walked away from the table after multiple attempts to complete a three-team trade with the Hornets and Houston Rockets for Paul, and then agreed to trade New Orleans-bound Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks instead.
ESPN.com learned Tuesday that a Lakers deal for Paul has not yet been ruled out, contingent on the fact that they can recruit at least one other team to supply some of the young pieces that the league is demanding. But the Lakers do still have Gasol as a centerpiece, who could either replace Paul as the Hornets' franchise player or give New Orleans a top-20 player to be dangled in subsequent deals.
"The Lakers are definitely still in this," said one source close to the talks.
The NBA's preference, however, remains a trade with the Clippers. The Lakers' co-tenants at Staples Center can best supply New Orleans with the combination of youth and draft picks to provide a solid and cost-friendly platform for the Hornets' next ownership group. Although many rival executives privately expressed the belief that Hornets general manager Dell Demps did well in the original three-team trade to come away with three starters -- Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Odom -- Stern blocked the deal over concerns that New Orleans was taking back too much salary in the deal and not getting back enough youth.
Sources close to the talks insisted that both Gordon and the Minnesota pick were on the table for much of Monday's talks, but that's one of the main reasons that the Clippers backed away. The Clippers have repeatedly expressed to the league's lead negotiator, Joel Litvin, that they fear surrendering both Gordon and the highly coveted pick in a deal for Paul will make it more difficult for Los Angeles to re-sign Paul as a free agent in the summer of 2013. At the point, the team's core could be stripped down to Griffin, Paul, newly re-signed center DeAndre Jordan and recent acquisitions Caron Butler and Billups.
The Clippers have also privately argued that it would be a mistake for them to surrender so much now for Paul when they'll have the salary cap space in the summer of 2012 to bid for him outright. Yet it remains to be seen what impact the Lakers' possible re-emergence would have on the Clippers.
For the Lakers, though, there are also risks involved in re-joining the Paul bidding. If Los Angles finds out it has no shot at trading for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard unless it sends both Andrew Bynum and Gasol to the Magic, then it can't lodge a new bid for Paul.
Yet sources say there is some sentiment within the Lakers' organization that actually rates Paul as a bigger free-agent priority than Howard, based on the premise that they'd still have Kobe Bryant and Bynum to team with Paul in a formidable new three-man core.
Marc Stein is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.