<
>

Clippers' best move? No moves

LOS ANGELES -- When Blake Griffin was asked about the trade rumors swirling around the Los Angeles Clippers last week he smiled and asked, "Am I getting traded?" Chris Paul responded to trade questions by deadpanning that everyone in the league is susceptible to a trade, including himself.

If there's one thing for certain heading into Thursday's NBA trade deadline it's that the Clippers will not be trading Paul or Griffin.

Other than that, basically everyone is on the table and theoretically could be dealt as the Clippers attempt to add what they hope will be the final piece or pieces to their championship puzzle.

Some within the organization think they have a championship team as currently constructed. Others think they are a player or two away from getting there.

Two of the many trade rumors involving the Clippers involve Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett or Bledsoe and Caron Butler for Paul Millsap, but it's questionable how much either move would really improve the Clippers' chances of winning a championship this season and in the future. The smart money is on L.A. staying with its current group and not trading away such key pieces.

Of course, Garnett or Millsap would be great additions, but when you talk about trading a starter like Jordan or Butler as well as Bledsoe, who is the sparkplug that helps power the Clippers' potent second unit as well as the team's insurance policy if Paul gets hurt or leaves as a free agent, that's a steep price tag.

The person with the most to gain from a Clippers trade would have to be Vinny Del Negro, the man with the least long-term stability with the team. Sure, he'd like to see Bledsoe and Jordan grow into their roles in the future, but he's probably more interested in winning now because his job depends on it. As good as the Clippers have been this season, Del Negro will still be viewed as a lame duck coach on the hot seat until he signs a long-term extension. Do Garnett and Millsap help him get there? In the short-term, the answer is probably yes.

That decision, however, does not belong to Del Negro. He has more say in the personnel department than most coaches, but does not have the final say when it comes to trades. Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks is also working under a one-year deal but his long-term employment with the Clippers seems more secure. He has been with the Clippers for 19 seasons and has the backing of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. He has made it a point to consult them, especially Paul, on major personnel moves, so if the Clippers do make a big move at the deadline, Paul has most likely signed off on it.

Every decision the Clippers make between now and July, when Paul becomes an unrestricted free agent, will be made with intention of making him as happy and comfortable as possible with the Clippers in the future. While multiple sources claim Paul is all but a lock to a sign a five-year, $105 million contract extension with L.A. in the offseason, if he is pushing the Clippers to make a trade, make no mistake about it, the Clippers will work to make it happen.

Paul didn't hide his affection for Garnett last week as the two sat next to each other during media availability before the NBA All-Star Game.

"At the end of the day, who wouldn't want to have Kevin Garnett on their team?" Paul said. "I talk about that guy all day, every day, his intensity to the game and how he plays the game. He's a special player. That's a guy right there that I looked up to for a long time. Me and Chauncey (Billups) are really close and he and Chauncey are really close and everything I know about him is that he's a very loyal guy."

Paul, however, said he hasn't tried to recruit Garnett or get him to drop his no-trade clause, which Garnett said he would not to do even if a deal with the Clippers was reached. Paul also said he wanted to see the currently constructed Clippers stay intact.

"Everybody knows I love our team and love the position that we're in right now," Paul said. "We've been playing great basketball. Right now I'm focused on who we have and what we're doing because we're not playing bad. ... Whatever we have out there, we're going to fight with. We're like brothers. I love our team and we're moving forward."

It would be hard to see Paul aggressively pushing the Clippers to deal his close friends Jordan, 24, and Bledsoe, 23, for Garnett, who turns 37 in May. Garnett is an upgrade offensively over Jordan, which would be helpful late in games during the playoffs, but Jordan is the better defender at this stage of his career and the Clippers' second unit takes a major hit if it has to play Willie Green instead of Bledsoe and lean on Jamal Crawford to be more of a ball handler.

The Clippers were 32-9 at the midway point of the season, tied for the best record in the NBA, before Paul was sidelined with a bruised right kneecap. Since he and Billups returned from their respective injuries, the Clippers have won their last four games by an average of 16.3 points, including a 24-point blowout of the Los Angeles Lakers. They're one of the top four teams in the NBA and have developed great chemistry. It doesn't make much sense to essentially blow up a big piece of that to add a veteran power forward with 26 games left in the season.

Chances are Thursday's trade deadline will come and go without the Clippers making a big move, which would be the smartest move for a team in position to compete for a championship this season and for the foreseeable future with its current roster.