- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Sources told ESPN.com that talks between the Raptors and Clippers are still in the exploratory stage, but the Raptors' interest in L.A.'s prized young point guard is said to be significant.
The Clippers, though, have been lukewarm on Toronto's pitches so far, sources say. The Raptors have been openly shopping out-of-favor forward Andrea Bargnani and have likewise pitched a trade scenario in which L.A. would receive both Bargnani and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, but sources say new Clippers coach Doc Rivers -- who was also named senior vice president of basketball operations -- continues to express interest in not only hanging onto Bledsoe but also keeping center DeAndre Jordan.
Bledsoe and Jordan were the two primary players pursued by Boston during the Clippers' drawn-out attempts to hire Rivers away from the Celtics. Although sources say the Clippers actually prefer Bargnani to DeRozan because of the Italian forward's ability to step out and stretch the floor, one source close to the process expressed doubt that L.A. would be willing to surrender Bledsoe in a deal for a player Toronto has been trying to move for months, given the considerable interest around the league in Chris Paul's athletic backup.
So one possible outcome to the Clippers-Raptors talks, sources said, is a smaller trade headlined by Bargnani going to L.A. in exchange for Caron Butler, enabling the Clippers to save Bledsoe for a bigger trade -- or, perhaps, keeping him if Rivers holds firm.
The Magic and the Clippers have been discussing the possibility of a trade with shooting guard Arron Afflalo and Bledsoe as the principles dating to early June. Yet those talks began before the Clippers' drawn-out hiring of Rivers to a dual role in coaching and management.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan acknowledged to local reporters after Thursday night's draft that Orlando "may revisit" trying to trade for Bledsoe, with L.A.
The Detroit Pistons, sources said, also have expressed serious interest in Bledsoe, who is known to be seeking an extension with any new team before the Halloween deadline for his draft class if dealt this offseason.
The combination of Bledsoe's desire for an extension and in-season proclamations from Paul himself that Bledsoe deserves to start elsewhere continue to convince rival executives that the Clippers -- despite Rivers' fondness for Bledsoe -- will ultimately conclude that keeping the 23-year-old as Paul's backup is a luxury they won't be able to afford.
It's been a working assumption in NBA personnel circles that the Clippers would try to trade Bledsoe before next season as soon as they were certain that Paul would re-sign this summer after becoming a free agent Monday. ESPN.com reported earlier this week that the Clippers are now operating under the assumption that the hiring of Rivers essentially has clinched Paul's signature on a new five-year max contract at the earliest permissible date: July 10. Rival teams that thought they would at least get a face-to-face chance to recruit Paul in free agency have likewise abandoned such hopes, fully expecting Paul to verbally commit to staying in L.A. shortly after free agency starts Monday morning at 12:01 a.m.
The Clippers also have been operating for months under the premise that they'd be forced to entertain trade offers for Bledsoe or risk losing him for nothing as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2014.
Some rival executives believe that the Raptors, meanwhile, are already prepared to part with DeRozan -- recipient of a $40 million contract extension last October -- in the wake of Rudy Gay's arrival and the front-office change that ushered out Bryan Colangelo (who authorized DeRozan's new deal) and ushered in new GM Masai Ujiri.
6hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann