Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why the OTHER L.A. team is in prime position, but Boston lurks

By now, reports of the Lakers' interest in acquiring BOTH Chris Paul and Dwight Howard have circled the internet and caused a stir. Yeah, there's almost no chance of that happening. As good as they are, the combinations of packages involving Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom are only enough to pry away one of the young superstars, as aptly described here.

So how about the other L.A. team getting involved? Hang with me for a second. The Clippers are flush with salary flexibility, young players, and a GREAT asset--Minnesota's unprotected 2012 draft pick. As it stands, they are around $13 million under the cap at around $45 million. They are planning on re-signing restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan for around 5 years, $40 million, a fair price for the young center. However, he could also be used as a trade-chip in a potential sign-and-trade, and that's where things get interesting.
Could CP3 be caught between the L.A. stars?

Ideally, a proposed Clippers wouldn't include shooting guard Eric Gordon, their best player outside of Blake Griffin. Offering talented second year players Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu (combined $4.35 million this year) along with Jordan and Minnesota's draft pick is a pretty enticing offer both from a talent and financial perspective for either the Magic or Hornets. Mo Williams ($8.5 million this year with a player option for next year at the same price) could also be used in order match salaries if the Clippers have to take back an albatross contract such as Trevor Ariza or Hedo Turkoglu. And then there's center Chris Kaman and his $12.2 million expiring contract.

There's the twist, as Kaman is still an effective player in a league with a dearth at the center position. He could be a valuable trade chip to a number of teams. For example, the Mavericks face a dilemma with Tyson Chandler in a "bird in hand is worth two in the bush" situation with Deron Williams as the future prize. They would be OK with Brendan Haywood as their starting center if they let Chandler walk, but Kaman would be a welcomed addition to the big man rotation. He's on a one year contract so they'd still have the chance for D-Will next year, and he's buddies with Dirk Nowitzki from playing on the German national team. Chris Paul has given indications that he would re-sign with the Clippers (or Warriors!) if they brought Chandler aboard. Boom! Sign-and-trade Kaman for Chandler and everyone's happy.

Add a couple shooters and Paul-Gordon-Ariza-Griffin-Chandler would be a fearsome opponent for anybody in the West. They would have some long-term concerns giving extensions to Paul, Gordon, and Griffin in the next couple of years, especially with Donald Sterling remaining as the worst owner in sports, but it's feasible.

As for Dwight Howard, the Lakers are a viable option for him to follow in Shaq's footsteps and join Hollywood, but I have always had a gut feeling that the Celtics would end up with Superman. Last summer, they wisely set up their contracts so that Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Jermaine O'Neal would all come off the books for the 2012 free agent class. Pending the moves of restricted free agents Jeff Green and Glen Davis, the Celtics will only have Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Avery Bradley under contract next summer, so it would appear as a prime landing spot for Howard.

However, Boston is surprisingly shopping Rondo around with their sights set on Paul. Ironically, they actually have a future Clippers first round pick from the Kendrick Perkins trade (which OKC got from the Eric Bledsoe draft day trade) to sweeten any deal. The Hornets apparently have no interest in Rondo, which has led the Celtics to allegedly try to acquire Stephen Curry, whom New Orleans covets. The thinking behind this, I would guess, is to have Paul aboard instead of Rondo while still having enough cap space to lure Howard to Boston. Paul has indicated that he would not sign an extension if traded to the Celtics, but he has also shown a preference for playing with Howard, so it is a calculated risk, especially with the possibility of the Magic making a trade in the mean time. No matter what, though, it appears the best point guard and center in the league will be on new teams come next year.

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