Tag:Hornets
Posted on: December 8, 2011 7:23 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2011 10:20 pm
 

Source: Paul trade to Lakers 'dead'

The Lakers agreed to the framework of a deal to acquire star point guard Chris Paul Thursday, only to have the trade imperiled amid an uproar from owners disgusted with the fruits of a new collective bargaining agreement, an ownership source confirmed to CBSSports.com.

"Dead," is how the person described the deal, which was supposed to send Paul to L.A. in a three-team trade also involving the Houston Rockets.

Yahoo Sports and ESPN.com first reported the incomprehensible developments, and team executives who had been on the periphery of the Paul trade talks were unsure if the deal had been killed by the league office or had merely hit a snag. 

Either way, the hours after players and owners voted to approve a new CBA ending the five-month lockout will go down as among the most bizarre in NBA history.

"WoW," Paul tweeted upon learning of reports that his trade to the Lakers was on the verge of being nixed.

Yahoo reported that owners were "irate" with Stern in Thursday's Board of Governors meeting, challenging the commissioner for the business-as-usual rampage of big-market teams preying on stars before the deal was even ratified -- and before the league had even officially re-opened for business, which is supposed to happen at 2 p.m. ET Friday.

"Pathetic," one team executive said Thursday in response to developments that included the Knicks maneuvering for cap space in preparation for signing top free agent Tyson Chandler and then the Paul deal to L.A.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said it was "not true" that owners killed the deal. "It wasn't even discussed at the board meeting," he said. "The league office declined to make the trade for basketball reasons."

The developments were "unbelievable," said another team executive, given that the league-owned Hornets had been allowed to conduct basketball business without interference from the league office since the other 29 owners assumed temporary ownership of the woebegone franchise in December 2010. Also, the league office technically was not supposed to be open to evaluate, approve or disapprove trades until Friday.

The trade was supposed to send Paul to Los Angeles and Pau Gasol from the Lakers to the Rockets, who would've sent Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to the Hornets. New Orleans also would've received Lamar Odom from the Lakers. While rival executives were stunned with how rapidly Hornets GM Dell Demps moved to rid the franchise of Paul, who has clamored privately and through back channels for more than a year to exit New Orleans, some nonetheless were impressed with the haul of players and picks the Hornets were able to obtain for a trade that essentially was done on a firesale basis. 

Demps, a former Spurs executive groomed by San Antonio GM R.C. Buford, had taken a proactive approach to the Paul dilemma and indicated to fellow execs in recent days that he had no intention of letting the saga drag out for months the way the Nuggets were embroiled in a similar controversy with Carmelo Anthony before trading him to the Knicks last season.

Now, the Hornets appear to be destined for even more drama, discontent and derangement than they ever imagined. 

Same for the NBA.

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Posted on: December 8, 2011 7:11 pm
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Posted on: December 6, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 10:32 pm
 

Hornets engaged in serious CP3 talks

The Hornets began to seriously engage in trade discussions for superstar Chris Paul Tuesday, with the Celtics, Clippers, Warriors and Mavericks among the most serious suitors, sources told CBSSports.com.

UPDATE: The Clippers' opening salvo was an offer that included restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan and Minnesota's unprotected first-round pick, with L.A. hoping that the prospect of playing with electrifying forward Blake Griffin and the big stage of Los Angeles would be enticing enough to Paul that he would eventually commit to the team long term. Eric Gordon is not in the deal "at this time," a source said, though it is understood that any deal that would include a commitment from Paul would have to include the sharpshooting guard.

The details of offers surrounding talks with Dallas and Golden State weren't known, though Yahoo Sports reported that the Warriors' offer centered around Stephen Curry and rookie Klay Thompson. But the Celtics stepped forward with an offer that would not have to come with any commitment from Paul that he'd re-sign with Boston after the season. According to a person familiar with the discussions, the Celtics offered Rajon Rondo, two future first-round picks, and restricted free agent Jeff Green in a sign-and-trade for Paul.

The impetus behind the Celtics' potential rental offer for Paul was intriguing: Come to Boston, take a shot at winning a title with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett while the window is still open, and then have enough room to entice Dwight Howard to come on board as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Garnett and Allen come off the books July 1, leaving the Celtics with only $30.4 million in committed salary for next season, when Howard can opt out of his contract with Orlando.

Though Paul has never expressed a desire to play in Boston, if he liked his new surroundings and the Celtics' chances of luring Howard, he would be in a championship-contending situation and could get his max deal of five years, $100 million six months after the trade.

Independent of the Paul situation, the Warriors are among the teams with the most serious interest in free-agent center Tyson Chandler, and the interest is mutual. Paul reportedly has let it be known that a team like the Warriors or Clippers signing Chandler, his former teammate in New Orleans, would enhance its chances of getting a long-term commitment from him -- a scenario confirmed by front office executives Tuesday.

The Hornets also are open to the idea of sending out free-agent power forward David West in a sign-and-trade, possibly as part of a trade package for Paul, sources said. It was New Orleans' interest in Jordan that prompted the Clippers to step forward Tuesday with a reported five-year, $40 million offer for their restricted free agent -- though a person close to Jordan said he is intent on remaining in L.A.

The Knicks also were said to be trying to engage New Orleans in conversations, given that Paul has long coveted the chance to join his friends Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in New York. But the best the Knicks can offer at the moment is Chauncey Billups' expiring $14 million contract, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert and center Jerome Jordan, a solid prospect who has yet to play a minute in the NBA.

The "other" L.A. team, the Lakers, also have a strong hand in their efforts to try to land Paul, Howard, or in a dream world, both. The Lakers have no chance of clearing the cap space necessary to lure Paul next summer, so their best chance is their deep stockpile of assets, including Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.

Hornets GM Dell Demps has indicated a strong desire to reach a swift resolution to the Paul drama and not allow it to linger for months the way the Nuggets were held hostage last season by the Anthony saga. Denver, of course, was able to get a better deal from the Knicks at the February trade deadline than would've been available before the season. But that was largely due to two key provisions that have been muted in the new collective bargaining agreement: the same length and dollars in an extend-and-trade that Anthony could've received had he simply resigned with Denver, and the fallback option of a sign-and-trade.

Paul can get only one year added to his contract in an extend-and-trade, and he'd get the same money via a sign-and-trade next summer that he would get simply by leaving outright as a free agent for a team with room: four years and approximately $74 million, as opposed to the five-year, $100 million deal New Orleans could offer he he played out the season. Paul also could get a five-year max deal from a new team following a six-month window from the date he was traded.

But front office executives who've been in touch with Demps say that New Orleans has no appetite for a protracted and potentially ugly trade saga with Paul. Yahoo Sports reported that Demps may push for final offers and a resolution by the time training camps and free agency open Friday.

Posted on: December 6, 2011 12:57 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 3:06 pm
 

Source: Howard hasn't told Magic what he wants

Dwight Howard has not yet indicated to Orlando management whether he wants to stay with the Magic, request a trade or play out the season and become a free agent, a person directly involved in the organization's planning told CBSSports.com Tuesday.

"Training camp opens the door to everything," said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I think that will happen very, very soon."

The soap opera of whether Howard stays in Orlando or seeks a trade to the Lakers already has begun in full force, however, and there already has been a casualty. Team executives were apprised via email Tuesday morning that CEO Bob Vander Weide has stepped down and will be replaced by team president Alex Martins. In replacing Vander Weide, 53, whose departure is being characterized as a retirement, Martin's first order of business will be to represent the Magic on the NBA's Board of Governors, which is scheduled to vote on the new collective bargaining agreement Thursday in an electronic ballot.

UPDATE: Whether Vander Weide's departure has anything to do with the owners' labor relations committee -- of which Vander Weide was a member -- signing off on a deal that could actually expedite Howard's departure from Orlando is a matter worthy of consideration. The Magic scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to address Vander Weide's departure, but Vander Weide admitted Tuesday that he did, in fact, call Howard at 1 a.m. earlier this week after "a couple of glasses of wine" -- a conversation in which the executive reportedly urged the star to stay in Orlando.

The person familiar with the Magic's strategy said Tuesday that, while Howard has yet to verbalize what he wants, the All-Star center has "deep roots here" and has previously expressed that "this is where he'd like to fulfill his career."

"He wants to win," the person said. "That's on his mind intensely."

While Howard has never publicly expressed a desire to leave Orlando, it has been known among people in his inner circle for months that his preference is to play for the Lakers. The only way he's getting to that L.A. team would be via a trade, and the Lakers -- with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom -- are one of the few teams in the league with enough assets to pull it off.

The new rules set to be approved by the players and owners this week have cut off some of the avenues for superstars looking to leave small markets for big markets -- but some of those rules actually increase the pressure on the home team to make a decision to trade such a player sooner than in the past. The extension Orlando can offer Howard -- same as New Orleans can offer Chris Paul -- falls short of what each could each get as an unrestricted free agent come July 1. And since they can no longer get maximum contract length and raises via a sign-and-trade, their teams don't have that avenue as a fallback option.

"I don't think he knows what he's going to do at this point," the person familiar with the Magic's strategy said. "I'm not sure anybody does. It's impossible to predict."

The overwhelming opinion in central Florida -- which in 1996 saw Shaquille O'Neal flee Orlando to sign with the Lakers as a free agent -- is for Howard to let his intentions be known sooner than later.

"Don't drag us out," the person said. "Tell us what you want, so we can react with facts, not theories and guesses."
Posted on: December 5, 2011 8:01 pm
 

Sources: Mavs saving room for run at D-Will

Tyson Chandler's hunch that he'll be wearing a new uniform soon could prove to be true. And it may have nothing to do with Chandler and everything to do with Deron Williams.

With serious interest registered from the Nets, Golden State, Houston and Sacramento, four teams with cap space and flexibility, the man who served as the glue for the Mavericks' 2011 NBA title could be slipping away -- but for reasons that go well beyond the uncertain free-agent market for Chandler himself.

The Mavs are in no rush to pony up a max offer to retain Chandler, largely because they want to maintain flexibility for next summer's free-agent class -- which just happens to include Dallas' own Williams, multiple sources told CBSSports.com. While much of the speculation in this five-day run-up to the start of free agency Friday has centered around 2012 free agents Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, Williams' situation is in many ways more intriguing.

"Everything is sort of stuck because of Chris and Dwight," one agent said Monday.

Add Deron to that list.

The Nets traded Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks to Utah for Williams in February and are in the process of trying to assemble enough talent around him to keep him with the team when it moves to Brooklyn next season. Like Paul and Howard, Williams has an early-termination option that would make him an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Williams already has indicated he will not sign an extension this season, just as Paul and Howard will not. Howard remains intent on finding his way to Los Angeles to join the Lakers, while Paul has his sights set on New York -- though he remains open to a trade that would team him up with Howard in Orlando.

Williams spoke with members of the New York-New Jersey media Monday and proclaimed in a radio interview on New York's WFAN that there's a 90 percent chance he stays with the Nets. New Jersey has expressed interest in free agents Chandler, Nene and Caron Butler, but the big prize that would make D-Will's decision to stay on the East Coast a no-brainer would be a trade for Howard -- a tantalizing scenario that could play out one way or another by the end of the week.

New rules that dampen the home team's advantage in offering its own prospective free agent a significantly larger extension -- and essentially take away the extend-and-trade and sign-and-trade safety nets -- are expected to force the Hornets and Magic to make quick decisions on how to handle Paul's and Howard's impending free agency. The Nets, having given up so many assets for Williams, are in a position to be more patient and do everything possible to entice their star to stay put.

But if the Nets are unsuccessful in their efforts to land Howard -- Brook Lopez, first-round picks and absorbing Hedo Turkoglu's contract doesn't figure to be enough -- then Williams will have an interesting decision to make come July 1. And the buzz among front-office executives Monday was that Dallas owner Mark Cuban would be in a position to sell Williams on taking less money to play in his hometown.

Once Williams becomes a free agent, he could get a five-year, $100 million deal to stay with the Nets. Signing with Dallas would net Williams only a four-year, $74 million deal. How much playing in his hometown is worth to Williams would depend, in part, on what pieces the Nets surround him with between now and then.

Of the teams expected to contend for a championship this season, only Dallas would have the cap space to sign a max player next summer and still have room to do more. If the Mavs used the amnesty provision on Brendan Haywood next summer, they'd be more than $21 million under the cap -- with Dirk Nowitzki still around, draining jumpers.

Jason Terry and Jason Kidd come off the books after the season, and the Mavs will want their Hall of Fame point guard to pass the torch to a star in his prime and keep Nowitzki in the hunt for more titles during the final two years of his contract. In addition to Williams, Paul and Howard, the 2012 free-agent class is loaded with attractive restricted free agents, such as Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo and George Hill -- not to mention Derrick Rose, who nobody envisions leaving Chicago.

So the lackluster nature of this free-agent class compared to next summer's, combined with confusion about the new rules and an unwillingness to be the team that sets the market, have slowed the activity with four days to go before camps and free agency officially open. Also, don't underestimate how the shortened season provides an incentive for teams to pass on significant moves now when July 1 is only a few months away.
 
The biggest impediment to the wheeling and dealing in 2011 has everything to do with 2012 and beyond.

Posted on: December 2, 2011 3:30 pm
 

Nuggets and the Nene dilemma

To Nene, or not to Nene. This is the potentially franchise-shaping question facing the Denver Nuggets.

This is becoming familiar territory for Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri, who no sooner got the job last season when he was thrust into the Carmelo Anthony saga. That one ended well for Denver: Melo and his wandering eye got a max extension and a trade to the Knicks. The Nuggets got valuable assets and picks, including players like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler -- who were already accomplished starters to a degree but also young and cheap enough to build and plan around.

But what about Nene? In a lackluster free-agent class, only Nene and Mavs center Tyson Chandler figure to command max money. Some NBA executives question whether either player is worth a contract starting at the max of $17.4-$17.8 million. If Nene wants to push for a sign-and-trade to a contender -- such as Dallas and Miami, two of the teams on his list -- he'd have to settle for a four-year deal with smaller raises than the Nuggets can offer.

If he wants a five-year deal, he'll stay in Denver. If he just wants a change of scenery, he could get a four-year deal from any number of teams that have cap space or could create it, such as the Nets, Warriors, Rockets or Pacers. In short, Nene has options. Not as many options as Anthony, who had the full extend-and-trade avenue and max sign-and-trade scenario going for him -- but options, nonetheless.

So, why aren't the Nuggets panicking? One, if Ujiri survived the Melodrama, the Nene-a-thon will be a piece of cake. And two, the Nuggets have options, too.

If Nene bolts, Denver is projected to have the most cap room in the league next season -- nearly $39 million, and more if they amnesty Al Harrington between now and then. They have their own first-round pick in 2012 and '13, and could wind up with more if Nene departed via the sign-and-trade route. As weak as this free-agent class is, this year's draft will be deep and exceptional. Not a bad time to undertake a one-year rebuilding/reloading plan if that's what the Nuggets are forced to do.

Also, the Nuggets brass need to find out what Gallinari is going to be in major minutes, not to mention Timofey Mozgov, another piece they got from the Knicks for Anthony. The sting of a rebuilding year also would be minimized by a shortened season. It'll be over fast, and if the Nuggets missed the playoffs, it wouldn't be long before they'd be preparing to pick a potential All-Star in the lottery.

While the Nuggets won't be in the running for a potential superstar free agent like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Deron Williams, their copious cap space and assets obtained in the Melo trade would give them flexibility to be one of the biggest players next summer. So do the Nuggets want Nene back? Of course. Ujiri has told him that on many occasions, and as with Anthony, the Nuggets exec has taken the time to build a relationship with his star so there's mutual trust.

But if someone is willing to pay Nene the max in the next week or so, making a 14-point, seven-rebound center a $17 million player? There may be no way to avoid parting ways. And as in the case of Anthony, it could wind up working out for the best for both sides.
Posted on: December 1, 2011 8:29 pm
 

CP3 drama and other free-agent buzz

And it begins.

Get ready for a replay of the Carmelo Anthony saga, with Chris Paul playing the role of protagonist and the big, bad Knicks once again in the villain role.

Cue the small market-big market theme song.

Seen this movie before. It's called "Gone With the Wind."

With Yahoo Sports reporting Thursday that Paul's representatives have informed the Hornets that he will not sign an extension with the team and that he wants to be traded to the Knicks, and with the Hornets immediately shifting into damage-control mode, we're right back where we were with Melo and the Nuggets. There are several key differences, however, that should be noted.

First, as pointed out earlier this week, the new rules take some leverage away from Paul in his bid to get to New York. Oddly enough, the rules that emerged from a lockout that was supposed to be about keeping small-market stars from fleeing to big markets also has taken a measure of protection away from the home team.

But Paul has done something important here that Anthony and his camp -- the same folks from Creative Artists Agency who orchestrated the union of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami last July -- didn't do. Paul has gotten started with his exit strategy much earlier.

Actually, it was last July when Paul's reps first informed Hornets brass that he wasn't sticking around and wanted to be traded to the Knicks, Lakers or Magic. At the time, the world was focused on LeBron and then the Knicks turned their focus to Anthony, who waited until the free-agent dust settled before clamoring to be dealt to the Knicks to team up with Amar'e Stoudemire.

Anthony got his way -- got his cake and was able to eat it, too. He did this under the old rules, which allowed him to get the same max extension (three years, $65 million) that he could've signed had he stayed in Denver. That avenue is no longer available to Paul. An extend-and-trade deal would only get him one year added to the two years he has left, a non-starter for a superstar of his caliber.

An extension with New Orleans would only net Paul two more years for about $39.6 million. This is nothing compared to what Anthony got, and not even close to the extensions that James, Wade and Bosh turned down before joining forces with the Heat. They did so by getting max length and dollars via sign-and-trades, and that option isn't open to Paul, either -- at least not in the same lucrative way. If he opts out and exits New Orleans via a sign-and-trade, he'd only get a four-year, $74 million deal -- compared to the five-year, $100 million the Hornets could offer. Factor in the notion that the Knicks, as of now, don't have close to the assets necessary to pull off such a deal, and it becomes even less likely.

Which brings us back to the original point: Even though it's December, it's technically July on the NBA calendar. Paul's efforts to determine his own destiny are starting much earlier than Melo's did for a couple of key reasons: 1) With Nene and Tyson Chandler the only potential max free agents in this class, there's no one to steal the attention the way LeBron, Wade and Bosh did las July; and 2) the new rules dictate it.

The Hornets' best chance of not getting stuck losing Paul for nothing is to trade him by mid-January or so. This way, New Orleans gets prime assets from a team where Paul is assured of re-signing with, and Paul only has to wait until July to opt out and get his five-year, $100 million deal from his new team once a newly imposed six-month window expires for players to sign new deals after getting traded.

The clock is ticking on Paul's time in a Hornets uniform, and this will unfold much more quickly than the Melo saga did -- in part, because of the new rules supposedly designed to keep star players from changing teams. Go figure.

There's one key difference so far between Paul's approach and Anthony's. Paul and his representatives have yet to say the words that would turn this saga into the kind of circus that the Melo drama became -- the words that Anthony made abundantly clear last season. What are those words? "I will only sign with the Knicks."

If Paul says those words, the tables turn and the game changes. And the Hornets might be inclined to call Paul's bluff and see if playing in New York with Stoudemire and Anthony is worth about $45 million to him -- the difference between what the Hornets could offer him next July and what the Knicks could offer, given that they currently only have about $13.5 million in projected room as the starting point on a four-year deal.

One thing is clear: We've seen this soap opera before. Getchya popcorn.

--

With the National Basketball Players Association reformed as a union Thursday with more than 300 authorization votes from players, the union and league can now begin hammering out the fine print of the agreement and negotiate the so-called B-list issues -- such as drug testing, the age limit, etc. A ratification vote is expected by next week, allowing training camps and free agency to open as projected on Dec. 9.

But -- and you knew there would be a but -- there could be a problem for the dozens of players who signed overseas contracts during the lockout. FIBA rules do not allow the paperwork excusing such players from their obligations to be submitted until the CBA is ratified. Once that happens, teams and agents say they're concerned that there could be up to a 48-hour delay in getting the paperwork processed and freeing the players to return to the States.

Thus, there is concern that such players -- the biggest star being the Nets' Deron Williams -- won't make it back in time for the start of camp. League officials are looking into the matter, but here's one way to look at it: If this is the worst fallout from the five-month lockout as far as basketball operations go, so be it.

--

Sources say there's mutual interest between the Bulls and free-agent forward Caron Butler. But Chicago hasn't ruled out also making a push for restricted free agent Marco Belinelli, whose defensive liabilities wouldn't thrill coach Tom Thibodeau but whose shooting prowess could help open the floor for Derrick Rose. ... Sources confirmed this tidbit passed along by CBSSports.com's Ben Golliver: Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago and is expected to be out until late December or early January.
Posted on: December 1, 2011 8:29 pm
 

CP3 drama and other free-agent buzz

And it begins.

Get ready for a replay of the Carmelo Anthony saga, with Chris Paul playing the role of protagonist and the big, bad Knicks once again in the villain role.

Cue the small market-big market theme song.

Seen this movie before. It's called "Gone With the Wind."

With Yahoo Sports reporting Thursday that Paul's representatives have informed the Hornets that he will not sign an extension with the team and that he wants to be traded to the Knicks, and with the Hornets immediately shifting into damage-control mode, we're right back where we were with Melo and the Nuggets. There are several key differences, however, that should be noted.

First, as pointed out earlier this week, the new rules take some leverage away from Paul in his bid to get to New York. Oddly enough, the rules that emerged from a lockout that was supposed to be about keeping small-market stars from fleeing to big markets also has taken a measure of protection away from the home team.

But Paul has done something important here that Anthony and his camp -- the same folks from Creative Artists Agency who orchestrated the union of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami last July -- didn't do. Paul has gotten started with his exit strategy much earlier.

Actually, it was last July when Paul's reps first informed Hornets brass that he wasn't sticking around and wanted to be traded to the Knicks, Lakers or Magic. At the time, the world was focused on LeBron and then the Knicks turned their focus to Anthony, who waited until the free-agent dust settled before clamoring to be dealt to the Knicks to team up with Amar'e Stoudemire.

Anthony got his way -- got his cake and was able to eat it, too. He did this under the old rules, which allowed him to get the same max extension (three years, $65 million) that he could've signed had he stayed in Denver. That avenue is no longer available to Paul. An extend-and-trade deal would only get him one year added to the two years he has left, a non-starter for a superstar of his caliber.

An extension with New Orleans would only net Paul two more years for about $39.6 million. This is nothing compared to what Anthony got, and not even close to the extensions that James, Wade and Bosh turned down before joining forces with the Heat. They did so by getting max length and dollars via sign-and-trades, and that option isn't open to Paul, either -- at least not in the same lucrative way. If he opts out and exits New Orleans via a sign-and-trade, he'd only get a four-year, $74 million deal -- compared to the five-year, $100 million the Hornets could offer. Factor in the notion that the Knicks, as of now, don't have close to the assets necessary to pull off such a deal, and it becomes even less likely.

Which brings us back to the original point: Even though it's December, it's technically July on the NBA calendar. Paul's efforts to determine his own destiny are starting much earlier than Melo's did for a couple of key reasons: 1) With Nene and Tyson Chandler the only potential max free agents in this class, there's no one to steal the attention the way LeBron, Wade and Bosh did las July; and 2) the new rules dictate it.

The Hornets' best chance of not getting stuck losing Paul for nothing is to trade him by mid-January or so. This way, New Orleans gets prime assets from a team where Paul is assured of re-signing with, and Paul only has to wait until July to opt out and get his five-year, $100 million deal from his new team once a newly imposed six-month window expires for players to sign new deals after getting traded.

The clock is ticking on Paul's time in a Hornets uniform, and this will unfold much more quickly than the Melo saga did -- in part, because of the new rules supposedly designed to keep star players from changing teams. Go figure.

There's one key difference so far between Paul's approach and Anthony's. Paul and his representatives have yet to say the words that would turn this saga into the kind of circus that the Melo drama became -- the words that Anthony made abundantly clear last season. What are those words? "I will only sign with the Knicks."

If Paul says those words, the tables turn and the game changes. And the Hornets might be inclined to call Paul's bluff and see if playing in New York with Stoudemire and Anthony is worth about $45 million to him -- the difference between what the Hornets could offer him next July and what the Knicks could offer, given that they currently only have about $13.5 million in projected room as the starting point on a four-year deal.

One thing is clear: We've seen this soap opera before. Getchya popcorn.

--

With the National Basketball Players Association reformed as a union Thursday with more than 300 authorization votes from players, the union and league can now begin hammering out the fine print of the agreement and negotiate the so-called B-list issues -- such as drug testing, the age limit, etc. A ratification vote is expected by next week, allowing training camps and free agency to open as projected on Dec. 9.

But -- and you knew there would be a but -- there could be a problem for the dozens of players who signed overseas contracts during the lockout. FIBA rules do not allow the paperwork excusing such players from their obligations to be submitted until the CBA is ratified. Once that happens, teams and agents say they're concerned that there could be up to a 48-hour delay in getting the paperwork processed and freeing the players to return to the States.

Thus, there is concern that such players -- the biggest star being the Nets' Deron Williams -- won't make it back in time for the start of camp. League officials are looking into the matter, but here's one way to look at it: If this is the worst fallout from the five-month lockout as far as basketball operations go, so be it.

--

Sources say there's mutual interest between the Bulls and free-agent forward Caron Butler. But Chicago hasn't ruled out also making a push for restricted free agent Marco Belinelli, whose defensive liabilities wouldn't thrill coach Tom Thibodeau but whose shooting prowess could help open the floor for Derrick Rose. ... Sources confirmed this tidbit passed along by CBSSports.com's Ben Golliver: Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago and is expected to be out until late December or early January.
 
 
 
 
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