(UPDATE: David Stern, who apparently knows more about basketball than the people who run the New Orleans Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers -- and Rockets and Lakers, for that matter -- has put the kibosh on the deal. It's still alive, barely, but only if the Clippers add several players that they have stated several times that they wouldn't. And, frankly, shouldn't be expected to considering the climate.)
Credit New Orleans Hornets general manager Dell Demps. The man had no leverage and no support from his bosses in the NBA's front office. He could have taken his time following the league's dismissal of Demps' three-way trade with the Los Angeles Lakers last week, pretending that he had some sort of advantage when it came to trading superstar guard Chris Paul, but instead the Hornets deputy personnel chief (second only to David Stern, of course) has apparently pulled the trigger on a quick deal that will deliver something sound to his team.
As first reported by the Los Angeles Times, Demps and the Hornets have apparently agreed to send Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers for Chris Kaman, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu, and ownership of the Minnesota Timberwolves' first pick in the 2012 draft. That pick is unprotected, and clearly the top motive for New Orleans in making this deal.
(Minnesota's top motive for sending the pick, back in 2005? Marko Jaric.)
Los Angeles' top motive? It gets an All-NBA talent for a season, and a chance to woo and sign that All-NBA talent to a bigger deal than anyone else can next July. Paul will dominate the ball for a team that needs someone, in the wake of Baron Davis' stint with the Clippers, to dominate the ball the right way. And assuming Los Angeles matches Golden State's offer to restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have a starting lineup and bench worth preparing the postseason for.
Of course, there are worries.
Again, this could be a rental. Paul could leave Los Angeles to go to any team that will take him on next July when his contract is up. He could chafe at playing for the decided step-sister in the Staples Center after nearly being traded twice to the Los Angeles Lakers, and his knee (which has been a concern for years) could hinder his abilities to dominate as he once did.
That's a knee on Chris Paul, though. Not on Mo Williams or even Bledsoe (who is out for two months with knee concerns, as reported before the trade was announced). The Clippers are taking a chance on it in exchange for what could be a top pick in next June's draft -- a tantalizing asset, no doubt, but one they'd have to wait on not only to draft but to develop.
Paul? He's done developed, ask any point guard in the league, and this was well worth the haul. Especially because the Clippers didn't have to depart with shooting guard Eric Gordon in the deal.
We can't blame Demps for failing to secure Gordon in the exchange, partially because the Minnesota pick is comparable, but mostly because Demps had absolutely no leverage. David Stern, in a misguided attempt to aid the team that the NBA owns, put the kibosh on a Paul deal last week that would have secured Demps several prime trading chips along with a young 20-point scorer in Kevin Martin; thus blowing to bits any chance New Orleans had at dangling Paul in the typical NBA manner.
The Hornets won't grab any 20-point scorers this time around (though a beefy frontline of Kaman and Emeka Okafor intrigues), but scoring that Minnesota pick is huge. By all accounts, the 2012 NBA draft is loaded, and it is arguable that Demps should have gone after this deal (as opposed to the Laker grab, which would have necessitated more deals from Demps to rid his team of older players) all along.
Credit Demps, in this regard. He may have threatened to retire on Thursday, when word came down from the NBA's office that Demps wasn't actually in charge of his own team, but he didn't bat an eye in securing what appears to be the best possible deal for New Orleans.
Now it's up to David Stern and the NBA to get their head out of the sand and realize as much.