No decision has been made by New Orleans about where to send point guard Chris Paul, but a source with a good read on the talks puts the list of leaders for his services as such: the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors. There are other teams making a push, among them Dallas and Houston, but there are no indications that they're being seriously considered by Hornets general manager Dell Demps.
But the situation doesn't begin and end with the Hornets' intentions, since Paul's perspective on where he might agree to stay long-term is a major factor. The Celtics, for example, have the assets (Rajon Rondo) and the incentive, but sources close to Paul says he has no interest in a long-term future in Boston and that reality might have moved the Celtics to the back of this pack.
Other things are slowing the discussions as well, including the Warriors' possible addition of his friend and former teammate, free-agent center Tyson Chandler. And while the Hornets are certainly working on the situation almost around the clock, the possibility remains that they bypass the many opportunities before them and enter training camp with Paul in tow.
Here's a look at the top contenders for Paul right now:
No matter how badly Paul wants to join forces with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, it seems clear that he realizes he can't get to New York via trade this season. As a result, his new favorite destination, I'm told, is the Lakers.
But what it would take to get him there remains to be seen. Lakers center Andrew Bynum is the prized piece because of his age (24) and, when healthy, his two-way impact, but he's not a good fit with incumbent center Emeka Okafor. The Hornets' veteran is owed a combined $40.4 million over the next three years and might have to be sent out (possibly to a third team) in such a deal.
Forward Pau Gasol is also believed to be in play, but the 31-year-old whose playoff performance raised questions about his game wouldn't fit as nicely into a rebuilding effort. Still, he's a four-time All-Star with good years left who has no shortage of value.
In much the same way as I was told "everyone but Dirk" is being made available by the Mavericks for Paul, the Lakers could find themselves discussing everyone on their roster not named Kobe.
While there was conflicting information about the Clippers' offer, the bottom line for the Hornets is this: They want the 2012 unprotected first-round pick that came from Minnesota. Of all the assets in play here, that pick is atop the Hornets' wish list, alongside Golden State guard Stephen Curry.
Next year's draft is being billed as one of the NBA's best in years. Kentucky forward Anthony Davis, Connecticut center Andre Drummond and North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes are among the many players who could do wonders for the Hornets' rebuilding effort. And while the Timberwolves are expected to improve under new coach Rick Adelman, the Hornets would be rooting all season long for a terrible showing that would lead to a high pick.
The question then becomes who would head the Hornets' way in such a deal. Giving up too much (as in shooting guard Eric Gordon and/or center DeAndre Jordan in a sign-and-trade) could affect Paul's willingness to stay there long-term. Nonetheless, two sources close to Paul say he is open to the idea of playing and staying in Los Angeles (either with Blake Griffin or Kobe ).
But because the new collective bargaining agreement makes it more lucrative for a player in Paul's position to re-sign in the summer as opposed to signing an extension now, Paul may have to find a new way to show he's willing to stay beyond this season. One likely idea, as was suggested to me recently, would be for Paul to pick up his player option for next season ($17.8 million) as a sign of good faith commitment. While a new deal would eventually be agreed upon, picking up the option would assure the team that they had his contractual rights in the interim and allow the blood pressure of the respective GM to stop rising.
A source confirmed an ESPN.com report that talks between the Warriors and Hornets regarding Paul slowed on Wednesday, but I'm told not to read too much into it. I can't see Golden State giving up its young core of third-year guard Stephen Curry, rookie guard Klay Thompson and second-year forward Ekpe Udoh without assurances that Paul will stay beyond this season, and that is only likely to happen if they land Chandler.
It made sense then that the Warriors turned their attention to Chandler on Tuesday night, when they met with him in L.A. after having discussions with his representatives the week before. What's more, it behooved the Warriors to start handling the Chandler/Paul components separately even though they might be linked, as their players arrived in town this week and the possibility for ruffled feathers increased.
Right on cue, Curry told local media on Wednesday that he was informed by general manager Larry Riley and new coach Mark Jackson that he was "safe and secure" before elaborating on his view of the situation.
"Obviously, there's the business of basketball and there are things that may happen with a GM having to make a decision for the best interest of the team," Curry told reporters. "When you have a guy like Chris Paul, who is a franchise player, that's something you really have to think about with anybody on the roster. I understand that. I'm not going to be upset if they entertained that."
The Warriors might have the toughest sales job of this bunch, but there are additional reasons for cautious optimism among those fans who want this trade. As was the hope when owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber hired Jackson, I'm told Paul is among the many players who respect the former New York point guard and ESPN analyst and see him adding credibility to their situation.
The addition of lead assistant Michael Malone shouldn't be overlooked, either: He was second-in-command on the Hornets' staff last season when they were the most-improved defensive team in the league under first-year coach Monty Williams.