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Three teams in lead for Paul, with deal likely before season begins

The race to land New Orleans point guard Chris Paul sped up significantly on Tuesday, as sources told SI.com that the Hornets have homed in on the Clippers, Warriors and Celtics as possible trade partners.

While it remains unclear which team leads the sprint for Paul's services, the notion that he could be dealt before the regular season starts on Dec. 25 -- if not the start of training camp on Friday -- has never appeared more likely. But while Yahoo! Sports reported that Paul indicated the Clippers and Warriors could increase their odds of landing him long-term if they signed free-agent center Tyson Chandler, a source with knowledge of the situation said Golden State had not received that message. The Clippers, meanwhile, have no interest in signing Chandler, Paul's former teammate in New Orleans, because of their plan to re-sign restricted free-agent center DeAndre Jordan.

The Lakers, Mavericks and Rockets are also pushing hard for Paul but appear to be behind in the running, in large part because Hornets general manager Dell Demps is coveting the sort of young pieces those teams lack. While a source close to Paul confirmed that he would want to play with the Lakers long-term, there is concern on the Hornets' side that the possible acquisition of center Andrew Bynum would be problematic given the presence of Emeka Okafor.

According to sources close to the talks, the Warriors' offer includes third-year guard Stephen Curry, rookie guard Klay Thompson and second-year forward Ekpe Udoh. Golden State would pay a hefty price on top of losing those players because its plan would involve waiving center Andris Biedrins via the new amnesty clause (his deal has three years and $27 million remaining) and signing Chandler to a four-year deal that would likely start in the neighborhood of $15 million annually. There is conflicting information on the Clippers' offer. A source close to the team disputed a report that shooting guard Eric Gordon and Jordan had been offered as trade pieces but other sources insisted that the two, as well as second-year guard Eric Bledsoe, had been made available to the Hornets.

The Celtics have reportedly changed their stance on whether they'd require a long-term commitment before trading for Paul. It was believed to be a requisite to a deal getting done when SI.com first reported their interest in Paul. Sources said their offer includes point guard Rajon Rondo, a 2012 top-10 protected first-round pick from the Clippers, second-year guard Avery Bradley and rookie guard E'Twaun Moore. Another source said restricted free agent Jeff Green would likely be part of that deal as well.

While Paul would prefer to land in New York to play alongside his friends Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, it seems he is well aware that he's not likely to join the Knicks via trade. Add in the fact that the Hornets don't want to risk losing Paul for nothing next summer when he could become a free agent, and his days in New Orleans appear to be numbered.

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