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Despite expressed interest from the NBA in reviving talks for a possible trade of Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers are still waiting for the league to lower its demands for the New Orleans Hornets point guard, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Clippers officials and NBA executives representing the Hornets have continued to have conversations, but the tone and substance of the talks has dramatically changed with L.A.'s addition of point guard Chauncey Billups, sources said. The Clippers are selling the NBA on the idea that the market for Paul has shrunk and the league’s demands have to be lowered, too.
One league source close to Paul said the Hornets guard is optimistic a deal will be completed. "He has a sense that something is going to happen soon," the source said.
For the talks to gather significant momentum again, the Clippers want the NBA to return with a far more modest proposal of what they want for Paul.
"They’re scrambling now," one official said of the NBA. "But it’s still hard to tell if they really want to trade him, or they’re just determined to keep the asking price in a place where they can hold onto him for the next owner. …These guys in New York had no idea how hard this process would be."
The Clippers are waiting for the NBA to return with far reduced demands, or they’ll simply start the season with an improved, playoff-ready roster. Clippers officials believe the NBA has to drop its asking price for Paul significantly with the acquisition of Billups, because there’s no urgency for Los Angeles to uproot its core for Paul for possibly only a season or two – not when the Clippers could have the salary-cap space to sign Paul in free agency after the season.
The Clippers could be willing to give the Hornets a future first-round pick, sources said, but they’re enthralled with the idea of the unprotected 2012 first-round pick they acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves possibly turning into an Anthony Davis of Kentucky or a Harrison Barnes of North Carolina. The Clippers remain resistant to the thought of surrendering both that pick and shooting guard Eric Gordon in a package.
The Clippers backed out of a possible deal with the Hornets Monday because they considered the demands of NBA officials – who are presiding over the Hornets' trade talks – too steep. Given permission by the Hornets to speak with Paul, Clippers officials had a recent phone conversation with the All-Star point guard in which he expressed excitement about the possibility of playing with Gordon and the potential of the Timberwolves' unprotected 2012 first-round draft pick, league sources said. The Clippers worry that surrendering both of those assets in any package for Paul would be detrimental to their efforts to convince him to stay with the franchise for the long-term.
After the Clippers called off trade negotiations Monday, general manager Neil Olshey and coach Vinny Del Negro met with players and told them the team was moving forward with its current group. Shortly afterward, the Clippers acquired Billups by claiming him off the league's amnesty waiver. Under league rules, Billups can't be traded this season.
Still, Olshey allowed for the possible resumption of trade talks while speaking to reporters in Los Angeles.
"I don't know if there's anybody on the planet that doesn't think they would need Chris Paul if they had an opportunity to acquire him," Olshey said.
Plenty of people in the league – including some in Paul's camp – are skeptical of the NBA's intentions to trade him, questioning whether league officials are merely going through an exercise to protect themselves against legal liability, preferring instead to have Paul on the Hornets' roster when the team is finally sold to a new owner.
While there's been no official transition of power, Hornets general manager Dell Demps has been completely pushed to the side in deal-making decisions for the team, multiple league sources told Y! Sports.
"He's basically a spectator now," one official said.
NBA commissioner David Stern has two of his top executives – Joel Litvin and Stu Jackson – conducting negotiations with teams interested in Paul. Demps is still making calls, but rival front offices and agents involved in possible deals with New Orleans say he's no longer authorized to decide on any transaction.
Teams interested in Paul have to send formal "bids" to the league office, sources said.
The league took over the Hornets in December 2010 and is angling to maintain value to sell the franchise for the highest possible price. Negotiations between the Clippers and Hornets intensified after the league twice blocked proposed trades to send Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers finally backed out of those talks and traded Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Clippers resisted parting with Gordon, sources said. Management has promised the talented young shooting guard it would not include him in any deal to the Hornets for Paul, sources said.
The Los Angeles Times first reported Sunday night the two teams were on the verge of a deal.
Agents are finding it increasingly difficult to negotiate even minor deals with the Hornets' front office.
"Stern has made them inoperable," one prominent agent told Yahoo! Sports. "I've given up trying to do anything with them until the Paul situation is resolved. It's very unfair to Dell. … Very unfair what the league is doing to him right now."
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