Posted Dec 8 2011 11:51AM
Speculation is heating up as to which team will snare Chris Paul when the NBA officially opens for business on Friday at 12:01 a.m. Still, this won't really get good until somebody from inside one of the chase cars gets permission from the Hornets to gauge Paul's interest in staying beyond this season, whether with an extend-and-trade deal or, more likely, after becoming a free agent in July. Only then will it be clear if the Hornets have the framework of an acceptable deal in place.
In the meantime, this much is clear: The Clippers and Warriors, two of the teams mentioned most often as possible destinations, cannot get caught in the sugar rush and make a trade on what might be. They cannot go on hope, on spec, on some feeling deep in the gut that Paul will arrive and be won over by a great city or the new energy around the franchise.
The Celtics are different. With tradition to sell and the ability to take more risks, Boston knows its aging roster is coming apart soon enough and major building will be needed anyway. While it would hurt to send Rajon Rondo to New Orleans and have Paul walk in July, they are in win-now mode and Paul is an upgrade over Rondo. The Celtics attract, and keep, talent.
The Lakers are different. Like the Celtics, they're a destination team, not a stepping stone. They pay, they win, they'll be aggressive to keep a roster around Paul, and it's L.A.
So this is mostly about the Warriors and Clippers and whatever lottery regulars are secretly jumping into the scrum. This is mostly about the real world.
Without strong assurances that Paul is interested in a long future together, no deal.
The Warriors know this, of course. They were in hot pursuit of Amar'e Stoudemire in June 2009 and had talked through numerous trade scenarios with the Suns -- the just-drafted Stephen Curry, Andris Biedrins, the still-promising Brandan Wright -- but would not do the deal unless Stoudemire signed an extension and removed the possibility of free agency after one season. The deal never even got to the point of Golden State asking for permission to talk to Stoudemire. If officials in Oakland had, they would not have received any such commitment.
Same thing now. ESPN.com reported Wednesday that trade conversations between the Hornets and Warriors were "definitely cooling" because Golden State would not include Stephen Curry and that the Clippers had taken a similar stance with Eric Gordon. That was soon followed by word from the Bay Area News Group that the Warriors would be willing to risk a 66-game rental of Paul, along with whatever could come in the playoffs, except with Monta Ellis going to New Orleans instead of Curry. By the end of the night, an NBA.com story from David Aldridge said CP3 will not commit to re-signing with either club and certainly not to picking up his 2012-13 option, a severe blow to any Hornets hopes of a bidding war.
Paul will almost certainly give the same official answer to the Lakers and Celtics, and no wonder. The difference in the expected Collective Bargaining Agreement between signing an extension or becoming a free agent and then re-signing with the same team is a difference of about $28 million over the longer life of a fresh contract. There are very few reasons not to become a free agent.
The difference is, the Celtics and Lakers don't have to do nearly the amount of heavy lifting to convince Paul he can be a star on a championship contender. The Warriors and Clippers would have to prove it, and with a running clock and so many years of instability, the sales pitch to stay would boil down to "Trust us."
Another team lurks not so quietly in the background. If Paul truly sees a future only with the Knicks, he can have it by waiting the season, likely trade and all, and then walking into the Madison Square Garden vault sometime after July 1.
Naturally the Warriors aren't going to part with Curry plus Ekpe Udoh plus Klay Thompson plus cap ballast, not for a player who won't come close to committing to staying, heading into a Draft in which Golden State may not have its No. 1 pick because of a years-ago trade. Of course the Clippers don't want to move Gordon into the pot and end up without Gordon and Paul, no matter how much they are convinced a season with Blake Griffin would convince CP3 he is already living the future.
In the end, there is a difference between being aggressive and being reckless.
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