The proposed cross-country move of Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics' bench to the Los Angeles Clippers' bench remained in limbo Sunday night because of the teams' ongoing haggling over prized young guard Eric Bledsoe, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Celtics will not consent to allow Rivers out of the final three years and $21 million on his contract unless they receive both Bledsoe and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan in a corresponding trade for Boston's Kevin Garnett, along with at least one future first-round pick as compensation for Rivers.
Yet sources say that the Clippers continue to tell Boston that they will not include Bledsoe in the proposed trade for Garnett, largely because they are determined to keep Chris Paul's backup to headline a separate down-the-road trade once they're certain that Paul has committed his long-term future to L.A.
The viability of the trade scenario featuring Rivers and Garnett thus hinges on either the Celtics or the Clippers relenting in the next day or two. Boston is also said to be insisting that the Clippers absorb the contract of either Jason Terry or Courtney Lee to clinch the deal.
One source briefed on the talks told ESPN.com not to expect any movement Sunday, with both teams apparently intent on seeing how committed they are to their respective Bledsoe stances.
Yet from the moment talks got serious Saturday, sources on both sides have indicated that a resolution was likely by Tuesday or Wednesday, whether that results in deals that send Rivers and Garnett to the Clippers or the teams stepping away from the table.
If the Clippers could successfully acquire Garnett and were also cleared to hire Rivers as their replacement for Vinny Del Negro, sources briefed on L.A.'s thinking say that the club would then pursue Paul Pierce in an attempt to reunite all three Celtics mainstays at Staples Center. If neither side budges soon, sources close to the situation expect the Clippers to change course by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest and name either Lionel Hollins or Brian Shaw as their new coach, which would bring an end to L.A.'s complicated courtship of Rivers and force Rivers to decide whether to return to the Celtics next season -- as Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge still hopes -- or leave the game to either return to broadcasting or simply recharge away from it.
The Clippers, though, would still have Bledsoe in the latter scenario as a trade chip to pursue additional roster upgrades to ensure Paul's signature on a new contract after he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.
ESPN.com reported earlier Saturday that the Clippers have internally weighed the prospect of offering star forward Blake Griffin to the Los Angeles Lakers in tandem with Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade pitch to land center Dwight Howard after July 1. Although some in the organization still regard Griffin as an untouchable, it's believed that the impetus for including Griffin in a Howard proposal stems from the frequent contact Paul and Howard have had in recent weeks about joining forces on the same team via free agency, as reported earlier this week by ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.
Sources say that the Clippers, meanwhile, have already engaged the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers in separate trade discussions headlined by Bledsoe, with Orlando's Arron Afflalo and Indiana's Danny Granger as the respective trade targets. Indiana, according to sources, is leaning at present toward keeping Granger for the final season of his contract in hopes that the former All-Star swingman's return from knee surgery can help the Pacers close the gap on Miami in the East, but L.A. has been operating for months under the premise that Bledsoe, once Paul re-signs, will be dealt before becoming a restricted free agent in July 2014.
Before the stalemate, sources says, officials from the Celtics and Clippers spent much of Saturday trying to hash out a deal that would meet Boston's compensation demands to rescind the non-compete clause in Rivers' contract and let him out of his contract. The pursuit of the Boston trio and targets such as Afflalo and Granger is all 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 also to ensure that they are an unquestioned championship contender going forward.
If the Celtics-Clippers talks ultimately fizzle, as they did in February when the teams discussed trades involving many of the same principals, sources say L.A. will choose between Hollins and Shaw, both of whom interviewed with the Clippers this week along with Byron Scott. After completing a two-day interview Friday, Hollins has emerged as the frontrunner from that group, sources say.
After Boston's elimination from the playoffs, Celtics officials initially had denied multiple requests from the Clippers for permission to speak to Rivers. Sources with knowledge of Boston's thinking also continue to insist that the Celtics are prepared to bring Rivers back should talks with the Clippers collapse fully, no matter how far down the road they go with Rivers' apparently desire to move on.
Rivers has been deliberating about his Boston future for weeks, with ESPN's Broussard reporting Thursday that the 51-year-old feels it "may be time for a change," after nine seasons coaching the Celtics.
The widespread belief in coaching circles is Rivers' indecision about definitively stating his desire to return to the Boston bench next season stemmed from his hope that he could convince Ainge not to blow up the roster and launch a full-fledged rebuilding project around point guard Rajon Rondo by instead keeping the core of the team together.
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. 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 team option for the 2013-14 season 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 winds up going 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.
Information from ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard was used in this report.