Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon are the two players New Orleans has pursued the hardest in the Hornets' fast-moving search for a workable Chris Paul trade, according to sources close to the talks.
But the Hornets continue to meet with resistance from the Warriors and the Clippers on Curry and Gordon, sources told ESPN.com, because both teams are reluctant to part with their young backcourt cornerstones with no assurance from Paul that he will stay beyond this season.
Sources said that the Hornets have actually been trying to convince the Warriors to part with Curry since before last season's trade deadline in February. But the Warriors could only stomach the inclusion of Curry if they knew Paul would extend his contract as part of the trade or at least commit to invoking his option for the 2012-13 season. Golden State has still received no such promises.
One source close to the process told ESPN.com that talks with the Warriors are "definitely cooling" because of Golden State's unwillingness to include Curry in the deal.
Following a voluntary team workout on Wednesday, Curry said he has received assurances from team executives that he is "safe and secure" with the Warriors despite the latest round of trade talks.
"They want me here," Curry said. "Obviously, there's the business of basketball and there are things that may happen with a GM having to make a decision for the best interest of the team. When you have a guy like Chris Paul, who is a franchise player, that's something you really have to think about it with anybody on the roster. I understand that. I'm not going to be upset if they entertained that."
The Clippers, meanwhile, have been aggressive in their pursuit of Paul, but sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne that neither Gordon nor restricted free agent center DeAndre Jordan have been offered to New Orleans.
Said one source close to the situation of Gordon's inclusion: "That's a deal-breaker (for the Clippers)."
Shelburne reported that the Clippers are not pushing as hard as uber-aggressive teams like the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets because they believe they are set up to win in the short and long term if they can re-sign Jordan and extend Gordon this month, re-sign Blake Griffin to an extension in the summer and also upgrade at the small forward position either through free agency (Caron Butler is their top target) or with Minnesota's unprotected first-round pick in 2012.
The players that the Clippers have made available to the Hornets, sources say, include center Chris Kaman and youngsters Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu. Yet it's believed that the Hornets will continue to seek out more offers and urge interested teams to try to recruit third- and four-team facilitators to make the trade offers more attractive with the inclusion of more draft picks and/or young talent.
ESPN.com reported Monday that in addition to the Warriors and Clippers -- New Orleans' preferred trade partners -- at least three teams have told the Hornets that they're willing to trade for Paul without any assurance that he'll extend his contract or re-sign next summer. They are the Celtics, Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, with Boston widely considered to be the strongest bidder in that group despite what sources describe as the Hornets' lukewarm interest to date in the primary players offered by the Celtics: All-Star guard Rajon Rondo and forward Jeff Green.
The Los Angeles Lakers, sources said, also remain in the Paul hunt even though they also continue to be regarded as the top trade suitor for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. The Lakers' intent to chase both superstars generated considerable skepticism from rival teams, given that center Andrew Bynum ranks as the Lakers' only highly coveted young trade asset. But one source told ESPN.com late Tuesday that the Hornets have not yet ruled out accepting a trade package headlined by Pau Gasol. That would theoretically free up L.A. to build an offer for Howard around Bynum and a package for Paul around Gasol, although it remains unclear how the Lakers could make two separate offers sufficiently attractive to pull off what would rank as perhaps the most star-studded trade haul in league history.
The Hornets have reservations about both players, sources say, related to Bynum's injury history and Gasol's major struggles in a second-round sweep by Dallas last spring at age 31. But as ESPN.com reported Monday, there is also rising sentiment within the organization to trade Paul before the 2011-12 season even starts because he hasn't a signed a contract extension, prompting New Orleans to look at virtually every trade option presented.
Paul and Hornets general manager Dell Demps did have their expected meeting Monday at the team's practice facility. The tone of the talk was amicable, sources said, but Paul did not tell the Hornets that he is prepared to sign an extension before the regular season opens Christmas Day, which only increases the likelihood that the Hornets will deal the star guard this month.
That, of course, is contingent upon finding a palatable deal, but sources say that the Hornets are determined to avoid the soap opera that engulfed the Denver Nuggets for much of last season when Carmelo Anthony's standoff dragged on until February's trade-deadline deal that sent Anthony to the New York Knicks in an extend-and-trade.
It has long been assumed around the league that keeping Paul made the league-owned Hornets more attractive to prospective buyers, but sources said Monday that the Hornets believe that they will be more appealing to potential suitors if they can stabilize the organization by bringing a resolution to the Paul saga as soon as possible.
Sources say that Paul has known for weeks that the Knicks, his No. 1 preferred destination to join Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, do not have the leftover trade assets after the Anthony deal to join the bidding. The Magic likewise appear to lack the requisite assets to make Howard happy by making a suitable offer for Paul, who has privately expressed great interest in teaming up with the NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
New York and Los Angeles are widely regarded as Paul's top two landing spots, in that order, but that hasn't stopped the Celtics from making perhaps the hardest push for a Paul deal. Although sources say Paul continues to express no interest in a long-term stay in Boston, Celtics front-office chief Danny Ainge is apparently convinced that trading for Paul now to make one more title run with the aging star trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen is a no-brainer gamble. With the contracts of Garnett and Allen expiring at season's end, Boston would have sufficient salary-cap space to not only retain Paul but also pursue a second young superstar to play with him.
Sources confirmed a Yahoo! Sports report from earlier Tuesday that Paul has let it be known that signing free-agent center Tyson Chandler would increase his chances of re-signing with any team that trades for him.
The Warriors, though, have been pursuing Chandler independent of the Paul talks since free-agent negotiations began last week and regard him as their No. 1 roster target for the new season. The Clippers, meanwhile, have shown no inclination that they plan to pursue Chandler, preferring to focus on re-signing Jordan at a lesser price and with Kaman still on the books.
One source familiar with the Clippers' thinking added that L.A., unlike the neighboring Lakers, has yet to have any substantive discussions with the Magic about Howard.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.