The Lakers, Hornets and Rockets reached agreement on the framework of a revised trade sending Chris Paul to the Lakers Saturday, pending the resolution of some moving parts and approval by the commissioner's office, multiple sources told CBSSports.com.
Houston would still get Pau Gasol from the Lakers in the three-team swap, while the Rockets would send Luis Scola and Kevin Martin to the Hornets, as in the original version that was killed by commissioner David Stern in his role as final decision-maker on major personnel moves for the league-owned Hornets.
It wasn't immediately clear how the Hornets were satisfying the league directive to acquire young players and valuable draft picks in the deal, but one minor tweak that New Orleans GM Dell Demps was trying to add was the inclusion of second-year forward Devin Ebanks from the Lakers. By late afternoon, it appeared likely that the Lakers would keep Ebanks and that the additional young talent going to New Orleans would be coming from the Rockets, who are seeking to follow up their acquisition of Gasol by signing free-agent Nene to a four-year deal for $60-$64 million, sources said.
UPDATE: The latest incarnation of the deal Saturday night also was expected to include an additional first-round pick for New Orleans that the Lakers were attempting to acquire from a fourth team, two people briefed on the talks said.
There were no indications that Andrew Bynum would be included in the new iteration of the trade, or that Emeka Okafor and the $41 million left on his contract would be going to the Lakers. While that substantial adjustment to the original deal terms might satisfy the league's objective to have Paul replaced in New Orleans by a combination of young talent and better financial books, it would also run counter to the Lakers' goal of trying to acquire Paul as a table-setter for a run at 2012 free agent center Dwight Howard.
UPDATE: While some observers were confused as to why the Lakers wouldn't seriously engage the Magic in trade discussions that would send Bynum and Gasol to Orlando for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu's poisonous contract, sources said the answer was simple: the Lakers want to try to position themselves to land both Paul and Howard. A person directly involved in the Howard sweepstakes confirmed to CBSSports.com a report by Yahoo Sports that Howard has requested a trade to the New Jersey Nets. Howard requested to be traded in two separate conversations with GM Otis Smith since Monday, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
However, a person involved in Howard's decision-making process maintained Saturday that the Lakers were by no means out of the picture -- and that, in fact, Howard views L.A. as a better fit for his off-court aspirations. The conflicting signals from Howard are similar to what Magic executives have experienced over the past year as the All-NBA center has frequently changed his mind about whether he wants to stay in Orlando or not.
The Magic, attempting to avoid the scenario that saw them lose franchise center Shaquille O'Neal as a free agent in 1996 and get nothing in return, gave Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, permission to speak with three teams about a potential trade: the Lakers, Nets and Mavericks.
As high as the stakes are for Orlando, they were equally high for New Jersey, which traded Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks last season for point guard Deron Williams without any assurances that Williams would still be with the team when it moves to a new arena in Brooklyn for the 2012-13 season. If Howard were traded elsewhere, and if Nene decided to join Gasol in Houston in the aftermath of a potential Paul trade, the Nets' efforts to surround Williams with enough talent to sign a long-term deal next summer would be on life support.
Though Howard clearly is the biggest prize in this game of musical chairs among future free agents, his future and the status Nene -- who also has close to a max offer on the table from New Jersey -- are on hold until the outcome of the Paul saga is determined. Stern must approve any transaction as monumental as a Paul trade not as commissioner, but as the final decision-maker for the Hornets in their absence of an owner since the league took over the franchise in 2010 from George Shinn.
The Paul talks were revived Friday afternoon after Stern took the stunning step of killing the deal in its previous form. The goal was to tweak the deal in a way that allowed New Orleans to come away with younger players and more draft picks, the directive issued by the commissioner's office after a trade that would've sent the Hornets three bonafide starters, a solid backup, and a mid-first-round pick was deemed not good enough.
There is no deadline, per se, to complete the deal. But the three teams want to reach a conclusion one way or another as early as Saturday to avoid any further awkwardness and wasted time in a training camp that already is shortened by the abrupt end to the 149-day lockout.
The deal consummated Thursday would've sent Paul to the Lakers, who would've Gasol to the Rockets and Lamar Odom to the Hornets. New Orleans also would've received Martin, Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick from Houston -- a solid haul by Demps under the circumstances in the eyes of many of his fellow executives.
Paul, among the biggest stars and most electrifying guards in the league, has an early-termination option after the season and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He already has declined a contract extension with New Orleans, and it is a foregone conclusion that he would leave as a free agent with his preferred destination being the Knicks.
But given that the Knicks didn't have cap space to offer Paul a max deal next season even before solidifying their defense with the imminent addition of center Tyson Chandler, the consolation prize of joining the Lakers with the opportunity to sign a five-year, $100 million deal after the season certainly would be enticing to Paul.
Where the younger assets would come from was still being negotiated early Saturday, with potential candidates to go to New Orleans being Patrick Patterson, Courtney Lee and an assembly of draft picks, according to an executive briefed on the talks.
While the commissioner has veto authority over all trades, it is typically only invoked if rules were broken or the deal doesn't comply with salary cap rules. In this instance, the league office is involved because the NBA bought the Hornets from previous owner George Shinn, putting Stern in concert with appointed team governor Jac Sperling on all major personnel decisions.
Rival team executives and agents expressed doubts Friday about how Paul could be dealt to a team other than the Lakers after Stern's well publicized nixing of the original deal components. If Paul were traded, for example, to the Celtics, who initially pursued him with a trade centered around point guard Rajon Rondo, the league would be unable to explain why Paul could be traded to the Celtics and not the Lakers. The league office's role was not supposed to be to decide which teams the Hornetsd do business with, but to ensure that the "best interests of the Hornets" were satisfied, according to a statement from the NBA Friday.
If Demps were unable to trade Paul in the wake of Stern's trade denial, it would be difficult to comprehend how the Hornets' "best interests" would be satisfied by the star leaving as a free agent in July with the Hornets receiving nothing in return.