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Paul to Knicks seems a longshot; more trade, free-agency buzz

Assuming Chris Paul is paying attention to the post-lockout treasure map as he plans an exit from New Orleans, it should be clear by now that the "X" that marks his fortunes is nowhere near New York.

The rules of the game have changed, his leverage limited by changes in the soon-to-be ratified collective bargaining agreement that make it far more complicated to maximize his payday while forcing his way to the Big Apple alongside Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The Knicks' roster beyond the two superstars is anemic, leaving the Hornets with little chance of making Paul's wishes come true while netting the sort of rebuilding pieces they so desperately want in return.

The question then becomes: Can Paul be convinced that his championship dreams and pockets can be fulfilled elsewhere? While there will always be league-wide interest in a player of Paul's caliber, the Celtics, Warriors and Clippers are known to be especially motivated to make him their franchise centerpiece and they might have enough assets to make it happen if -- and it's a huge if -- Paul's mind can be changed.

The Celtics, as reported by SI.com on Tuesday, have had extensive discussions about trading Rajon Rondo for Paul but needed a third team when it was made clear that the Hornets weren't interested in a point-guard swap. A Yahoo! report identified Indiana as a possibility for the Celtics, but there are surely others. Whichever team might play that role, Rondo's repute and trade value is such that the possibility will remain intriguing until the trade deadline arrives.

The Warriors' potential offer is more than respectable, too. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, the Hornets have let it be known that they like Warriors guard Stephen Curry. Sources told SI.com that Curry and rookie guard Klay Thompson were both targeted by the Hornets as the desired pieces in recent discussions regarding Paul, though those talks are believed to have gone dormant for now. Since taking over the Warriors in 2010, owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber are determined to change the losing culture and second-rate perception of their franchise, and it should come as no surprise that they want to woo of star of Paul's ilk.

Donald T. Sterling be darned, the Clippers have the allure of Blake Griffin and a bevy of appealing talent to potentially offer. Shooting guard Eric Gordon and veteran point guard Mo Williams would likely have to be involved, but the Clippers also have second-year forward Al-Farouq Aminu and the expiring contract of veteran center Chris Kaman.

Because of a new rule in which traded players must wait six months before signing new contracts with their new team, there are serious incentives for Paul and his prospective new team to get a deal done by early January. That way, Paul could forgo his $17.8 million player option for next season and re-sign for maximum value (five years and approximately $100 million) when free agency begins in July, while also allowing his team to avoid losing out on other free agents.

It remains to be seen where Paul's treasure lies, but it isn't likely to be where he wants it.

Despite Deron Williams' agent declaring that his client won't be signing an extension with the Nets, nothing has changed about the All-Star guard's situation in New Jersey.

The forthcoming CBA means the idea of signing a two-year extension (which would be tacked on to his current deal and run through 2015) is the least lucrative of his many options. And you have to wonder if Williams -- who is expected to forgo his 2012-13 player option and join next summer's heralded free-agent class with Paul and Orlando's Dwight Howard -- wasn't relieved by that reality.

Under the previous agreement, he would have likely been pressed for answers about his long-term views of the Nets before the trade deadline. Now, he has the legitimate claim that it's simply bad business and he can let the season unfold without deciding his fate.

But should the Nets fall short in their recently reported bid for Howard and owner Mikhail Prokhorov's plan to pair the two stars lose its appeal, there is still plenty of time for Williams' situation to turn into the latest star circus.

• Weak as this free-agent class might be (and it is), there is no shortage of veteran small forwards who would fit perfectly on a playoff team.

Tayshaun Prince leads the pack (which also includes Shane Battier and Grant Hill), and a source close to him said the veteran hasn't ruled out a return to Detroit just yet. Despite the overwhelming levels of dysfunction and defeats under coach John Kuester last season when the Pistons were 30-52, the presence of new coach Lawrence Frank and a chance to deal with "unfinished business" in Detroit has Prince keeping that option open.

"He's going to give [Pistons president] Joe [Dumars] an opportunity," the source said.

Miami has been linked to all three small forwards as possible additions in the past, and the source said the Heat did show interest in Prince this week (along with the Clippers, according to the Los Angeles Times). But, as detailed by SI.com's Zach Lowe, Miami's financial situation remains in flux because of the undetermined fate of Mike Miller.

If the Heat decide to amnesty their injured shooting guard, they would be able to use the full mid-level exception (four years starting at $5 million) while possibly retaining free-agent point guard Mario Chalmers. But free agents like Prince and center Samuel Dalembert (who is also being pursued by the Heat) are expected to command a higher rate than the mid-level and are watching closely to see if Miami finds some other way of clearing room.

• While the 39-year-old Hill told reporters in Phoenix on Friday that the chances are good that he'll return to the Suns, the 33-year-old Battier's return to Memphis appears less likely. The Grizzlies are clearly determined to retain restricted free agent Marc Gasol, which will likely take a maximum contract offer starting at $14.8 million. That would result in a potential Battier offer being capped at a mid-level exception deal, leveling the playing field for some of his suitors and prompting him to consider the Heat, Bulls and Celtics. The Lakers have been linked to Battier, but their best offer would have to come in the form of the new "mini mid-level" (maximum of three years and starting at $3 million) because they are a tax-paying team.

• Sources said Miami also has its eyes on center Kwame Brown. According to a source close to the center, the Heat, Knicks, Celtics, 76ers, Warriors and Bobcats have expressed interest in Brown.

Brown is coming off his most productive season since 2006-07, having averaged 7.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 26 minutes over 66 games for Charlotte while making amends with the man who so infamously drafted him first overall in 2001: Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.

• Adam Morrison is seriously considering a return to the NBA. The former Gonzaga star and No. 3 draft pick in 2006 was let out of his Red Star Belgrade contract in Serbia on Tuesday and headed for the United States on Wednesday. He has spent the week considering Euroleague and NBA options, both of which appear to be plentiful. Morrison was cut by the Wizards in Nov. 2010 and considered retirement before going to Serbia in October. The return of his fiery play and passion for the game has had everything to do with his reappearance.

• If Donald Sloan keeps playing like this, he won't be in the D-League for long. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound former Texas A&M point guard is averaging 24.7 points and 9.7 assists in the Erie Bayhawks' first three games and is seeing a spike in NBA interest as a potent reserve guard. After being cut by the Kings last October, Sloan went on to average 10.7 points and 27.7 minutes per game with the D-League's Reno Bighorns.

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