Sources: 'Substantive' talks; no deal
Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that the Celtics and Clippers held "substantive discussions" Monday on the proposed multilayered transactions that would send Rivers and Celtics star Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles. But the teams, sources say, remain unable to agree on a final trade framework to go through with the two deals, even after Boston relented on its insistence that the Clippers include prized young guard Eric Bledsoe as part of the package for Rivers and Garnett.
Another element of the talks, sources said, is the negotiations between Rivers and the Clippers on a coaching contract. Rivers has three years left on his original five-year, $35 million deal with the Celtics and will be looking to stay in the same salary range if Boston ultimately receives what it deems sufficient compensation to let the 51-year-old out of that deal.
So the Clippers, in what NBA coaching sources are terming a "separate process," have moved ahead with their coaching search just in case, for one reason or another, they'll be unable to pry Rivers out of Boston. They've arranged sitdowns this week for Byron Scott (Tuesday) and Brian Shaw (Wednesday) with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Lionel Hollins, the other finalist for the Clippers' job before the pursuit of Rivers got serious, already met with Sterling.
Numerous sources connected to talks continued to express optimism Monday that the Celtics and Clippers will eventually agree to terms this week, with some interpreting the Clippers' plans to resume talks with the likes of Shaw and Scott as their latest thinly veiled message to the Celtics that they aren't afraid to walk away from the table.
"It's a dance right now," said one source close to the process. "I think it'll eventually happen. They're just staring at each other."
Said another: "It's certainly not dead. I think they have an idea of the main parties who would be involved, but now they've got to figure out smaller details and negotiate a deal with Doc."
The teams have at least agreed on one element: Sources say Boston is no longer insisting that the Clippers include Bledsoe in the trade for Garnett. The Clippers have been adamant from the start that they would not consent to part with Bledsoe alongside center DeAndre Jordan in the same deal with the Celtics. Sources say L.A. remains determined to keep Bledsoe so it can use him as a centerpiece in a down-the-road deal.
ESPN.com reported earlier Monday that the Clippers' willingness to take on the contract of Celtics guard Courtney Lee or teammate Jason Terry -- instead of parting with Bledsoe -- would likely be enough to convince Boston to go ahead with the separate deals involving Rivers and Garnett. But sources said Monday night that one holdup is Boston's hope that the Clippers will actually take on the contracts of both players, something sources say L.A. is unwilling to do.
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The Clippers, who sources said had earlier been prepared to trade Jordan and Caron Butler's $8 million expiring contract in exchange for Garnett and either Lee or Terry, now want to try to push through a trade for Garnett without taking back Lee or Terry. That would enable L.A. to hang onto Butler, and then in a separate transaction send just one first-round pick to Boston as compensation for letting Rivers out of the final three years and $21 million left on his deal.
The Celtics, sources say, have taken the stance that -- after relenting on Bledsoe -- they need some salary-cap relief by shedding at least one of those long-term contracts or at least two first-round picks to give up both Rivers and Garnett, who would then waive his no-trade clause to complete the trade.
Lee has three years left on his contract valued at $14.4 million; Terry is scheduled to earn nearly $11 million over the next two seasons. One source close to the talks said Monday night that "considerable momentum" remains behind the talks because the financial flexibility gained by trading Lee or Terry, along with the acquisitions of Jordan and a first-round pick, likely add up to too much for Boston to pass up for a coach (Rivers) who no longer wants to be there and a player (Garnett) who is likely to retire if he can't carry on alongside Rivers and fellow Celtics star Paul Pierce.
Pierce is not part of this trade, but sources say that the Clippers hatched this ambitious plan to acquire Rivers and Garnett with the intent from the start to land Pierce as well. The Celtics have until June 30 to either buy out Pierce for $5 million or guarantee him $15.3 million for next season, but it's believed that Boston wants to wait until the draft later this month to see if it can make a trade to get something for Pierce instead of just setting him free.
The possibility remains, though, that the deal could collapse, which could lead to such extremes as Rivers returning to broadcasting and Garnett retiring at 37. Sources with knowledge of Boston's thinking have expressed skepticism that fences could be mended at this point to allow Rivers to keep coaching the Celtics if he had a change of heart about pushing for a move to the Clippers.
Since these talks got serious late last week, sources connected to both sides stressed that the transactions had to be wrapped up by Tuesday or Wednesday of this week before the Clippers moved on and hired one of its other top contenders -- Hollins, Shaw or Scott -- to replace Vinny Del Negro. But there's a sense around the league that, until the Clippers actually hire another coach, talks between Boston and L.A. won't really go dormant no matter what sort of posturing ensues.
The Clippers, meanwhile, believe that landing Rivers would guarantee that star guard Chris Paul re-signs with the team when he becomes a free agent July 1. The Clippers would also then still have Bledsoe as a trade chip to pursue additional roster upgrades to ensure Paul's signature on a new contract.
One side concern for the Clippers, though, is the prospect of the Denver Nuggets hiring either Shaw or Hollins for their head coaching vacancy and robbing L.A. of one of its preferred fallback choices. Shaw and Hollins have interviews scheduled with the Nuggets this week.
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics
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