There is rising sentiment within the New Orleans Hornets' organization to trade Chris Paul before the 2011-12 season even starts if he hasn't signed an extension with the team by then, according to sources close to the situation.
Sources told ESPN.com that Paul and Hornets general manager Dell Demps did have their expected sitdown at the team's practice facility Monday and that the tone of the meeting was amicable. But Paul, sources said, 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 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 circus that swirled around the Denver Nuggets. Carmelo Anthony's standoff with the Nuggets went from September until February's trade deadline before Denver finally completed an extend-and-trade deal with the New York Knicks.
It has long been assumed around the league that keeping Paul made the league-owned Hornets more attractive to prospective buyers, but sources told ESPN.com on 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.
The Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks have shown the most interest in trading for Paul, according to sources briefed on the talks. One source told ESPN.com that virtually every team in the league has called, including the Los Angeles Lakers, but the source echoed a Yahoo! Sports report from earlier Monday that the Hornets and Lakers have yet to seriously discuss specifics.
The Clippers and Warriors, sources say, are the Hornets' preferred trade partners, but both California teams have hesitations because they want to be sure that Paul is committed to stay before surrendering some of the prized assets that New Orleans is chasing.
One source close to the process told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne that the Clippers have informed New Orleans that young guard Eric Gordon will not be included in any deal because Paul hasn't given L.A. any assurances that he's willing to sign with the Clippers for the long-term.
The Hornets also have strong interest in Lakers center Andrew Bynum, but the Lakers lack the additional young players and draft picks to sweeten a deal. The Clippers, however, possess players such as restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe and an unprotected 2012 first-round pick from Minnesota. It is also widely presumed that the Lakers prefer to include Bynum in the trade offer they're expected to extend to the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard.
There is also a small handful of teams that has informed the Hornets they are prepared to trade for Paul with no assurance that they can keep him beyond this season. That list, sources say, includes the Rockets, Boston Celtics and defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
Each of those teams would be gambling that Paul would be won over by his new surroundings and either elect to play out the final season of his current contract (valued at $17.8 million in 2012-13) or opt out of his contract on July 1, 2012, and sign a new deal. Paul's 2011-12 salary is listed at $16.4 million.
Boston would appear to have the most to offer in such a scenario if the Celtics are willing to include point guard Rajon Rondo, but sources say that the Hornets are convinced that they can receive more from any of the so-called gambling teams than from the Knicks, who are widely regarded as Paul's No. 1 preferred destination.
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com