The Lakers, Hornets and Rockets have discussed a three-way trade that would send Chris Paul to Los Angeles and Pau Gasol to Houston, league sources told SI.com. New Orleans would receive Rockets shooting guard Kevin Martin and forward-center Luis Scola.
The Lakers have been in the hunt for Paul since the beginning, but their reluctance to include center Andrew Bynum in any deal for the star point guard has prevented talks from advancing. The Lakers prefer to hold on to Bynum as the possible centerpiece of trade talks with Orlando for Dwight Howard, who, like Paul, can become a free agent in 2012.
The Hornets are not interested in Gasol (who has three years and $57 million left on his deal), but in the last 48 hours they have put out feelers to try to gauge league-wide interest in the 31-year-old forward.
Houston has been actively pursuing centers. Rockets officials have met with free agents Nene and Samuel Dalembert in the last week. While a source close to Nene said he has not made any decision, rival executives believe he is headed back to Denver. However, Houston is also still in the mix for the longtime Nugget. The Rockets want Gasol, who would become the low-post presence they have craved since Yao Ming went down with injuries.
Sources involved in the talks said the Hornets have been reluctant to close any deal until they are sure they have the best offer. A source said Boston has redoubled its efforts in the last 24 hours to put together a trade for Paul.
With Boston president Danny Ainge believed to be willing to do a deal without assurances that Paul would stay beyond this season, there are indications that the Hornets are still very intrigued by the possibilities with the Celtics.
A potential deal including point guard Rajon Rondo, restricted free agent Jeff Green and two 2012 first-round draft picks (one from the Clippers that is protected in the top 10 for the next four years, the other the Celtics' pick) would give the Hornets two starters and the potential for more young pieces to come. The package could provide the sort of youthful foundation that Hornets general manager Dell Demps is searching for in a post-Paul era.
But there would be concerns for the Hornets should they make a deal with Boston that doesn't involve a third team, which potentially could bring more attractive assets. Besides the fact that Rondo and Green are not players the Hornets have coveted, the value of the picks could be minimized if the Clippers become a top-10 team and the Celtics finish near the top again, resulting in a late-20s draft position on the second first-round selection.
A Celtics source said the fact that free-agent center Tyson Chandler is close to a deal with New York -- which would effectively eliminate the Knicks' ability to sign Paul outright as a free agent next summer -- has the Celtics pushing harder, believing that if they can make a trade with New Orleans, Ainge and coach Doc Rivers can persuade Paul to sign long term.
Meanwhile, sources said that the Warriors, despite apparently missing out on their top free-agent target in Chandler, will continue to pursue Paul under different parameters. When it appeared possible that they could sign Chandler and convince Paul to want to stay long term in part by playing with his friend and former New Orleans teammate, there was a willingness to include third-year guard Stephen Curry in the deal as well as rookie guard Klay Thompson and second-year forward Ekpe Udoh. But the notion of "renting" Paul for the season, while still attractive to the Warriors, would change the offer and likely result in veteran shooting guard Monta Ellis (three years, $33 million remaining on his contract) making up the core of the package.
Without the assurances from Paul that now seem impossible, Thompson -- the Washington State product who was endorsed strongly by Warriors consultant Jerry West -- may no longer be available. Golden State has attempted to sweeten the deal in other ways. A source said the Warriors recently offered a first-round pick as part of a proposal.
Independent of Paul, sources said the Warriors will now make a hard run at Clippers restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan as opposed to Nene or Dalembert.