…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.
The other two teams pursuing Paul are the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors (with the Dallas Mavericks appearing the darkest horse of the serious contenders). The Clippers are featuring a package that includes Eric Gordon, RFA DeAndre Jordan and draft picks and Golden State is dangling Stephen Curry and considering signing Paul’s free agent friend Tyson Chandler to entice him to stay long term. It should be noted that the Hornets prefer Curry to Rondo and the Clipper package is probably the most impressive of all right now.
That explains why Ainge has also reportedly pursued a trade with Golden State state with Rondo and Curry as the principles, with a likely intent to flip Curry to New Orleans for Paul.
New Orleans GM Dell Demps may call in final offers as early as Friday to avoid the specter of a season-long cloud hanging over the Hornets, the way the Carmelo Anthony saga lingered in Denver last year.
Whether Ainge is capable of getting hold of Paul or not, a few things are increasingly clear:
1) Ainge is more than willing to move Rondo for an upgrade. He’s made overtures to at least two teams (OKC and New Orleans) since the end of the 2010-11 season and it’s fair to assume he’s looking for a stronger building block for the next Boston era.
2) The plan has always been to trade for Paul and use him to lure Dwight Howard. This falls into line with the Celtics’ organizational philosophy, which is to build a team of multiple all-stars, headlined by a top-50-of-all-time player. This is the paradigm they used when acquiring Kevin Garnett (top-50 all time) and Ray Allen to go with Paul Pierce.
Paul and Howard may both eventually end up top-50-of-all-time players.
3) No matter what happens between now and Dec. 25, this Celtics roster could undergo some major upheaval before the trade deadline. Assume for a moment that Paul is dealt to one of the west coast teams. If that happens, the smart assumption is that Ainge is still thinking big, and willing to make a bold move if it positions the franchise well for next season and beyond.
UPDATE: Later reports, including this one from ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Broussard, indicated the Clippers have not included Gordon in the trade proposal, and that the package includes Chris Kaman, Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu. If Gordon’s off the table permanently, Curry becomes the real prize for New Orleans. That may be the case even with Gordon included. Rondo’s clearly not at the top of their wishlist.
If you are hoping to see Rondo moved for Paul, take heart in this: of the three teams in pursuit, only Boston seems comfortable taking Paul back without a contract extension and he’s granted no such assurances he’ll agree to one. This is unlikely to change, especially given the financial benefits Paul would gain by waiting until the summer of 2012 to sign a new deal.
More, inevitably, tomorrow.