Update: Chris Paul trade moving fast, Dwight Howard not

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This much has become clear: It is very likely Chris Paul will be traded before the start of the NBA season and talks are fast tracked on that move. However, talks surrounding a Dwight Howard trade have slowed to a trickle as Howard has not told the Magic what he wants so that team remains focused on moves to keep him in house.

Chris Paul cannot be traded before Friday, Dec. 9, but Hornets GM Dell Demps is moving fast, listening to offers from around the NBA. After a meeting with Paul on Monday where it was clear CP3 would not sign an extension in New Orleans, Demps has refused to let this situation drag out as happened with Carmelo Anthony last year. This process has gained a real momentum.

Golden State may be the team in the lead right now. The Hornets offer is based around Stephen Curry and rookie Klay Thompson. But in addition they are one of the leaders in signing Tyson Chandler, reports Marc Stein of ESPN, a race the Warriors jumped into prior to the CP3 trade talk. Paul and Chandler played together in New Orleans and Paul has told teams it is far more likely that he signs an extension somewhere if Chandler is on that squad.

The Clippers and Celtics remain in the mix and have made first offers, reports Ken Berger at CBSSports.com.

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….

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 Hornets would be fools to do a deal with the Clippers that did not net them Gordon, and Demps is no fool. The Clippers, obviously, would like to keep Gordon as the two guard next to Paul, which is why he is not in the deal currently. Also, reportedly the Clippers may have offered Chris Kaman instead of Jordan, but you can bet the Hornets prefer the younger and more athletic Jordan.

The Clippers and the Warriors face similar issues with Curry and Gordon, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

But the Hornets continue to meet with resistance from the Warriors and the Clippers on Curry and Gordon, sources told ESPN.com, because both teams are reluctant to part with their young backcourt cornerstones with no assurance from Paul that he will stay beyond this season.

Paul may have said he wanted to go to the Knicks, but that is only happening if he becomes a free agent and signs there this summer. As Berger notes, the best they can offer is Chauncey Billups (a $14 million expiring deal), Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert and Jerome Jordan. Not good enough. The Knicks are reportedly trying to get better trade assets. They should talk to Denver, where the Knicks sent all their assets last year to get Carmelo Anthony.

The other team in Los Angeles — the Lakers — are not out of the running either, reports David Aldridge at NBA.com. The Lakers package is reportedly Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Paul and the unpleasant contract of Emeka Okafor.

A team willing to take on Okafor and his three-year, $40 million deal may have an advantage in the talks.

If the Lakers send Bynum for Paul they would likely be out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes… if there will be one.

Howard and the Magic front office have spoken but unlike Paul he did not say he will not sign an extension to stay. Which means right now the Magic are more focused on bringing in a superstar to pair with Howard and keep him rather than sending him out.

They are targeting Deron Williams among others, according to David Baumann at Big House Sports Network (via Eye on Basketball). Also on the radar are Chris Paul and Monta Ellis, according to the reports. For the record, there is no way the Nets are trading Williams, they are trying to acquire assets to keep him there.

The problem for the Magic remains this — how do they get these players? While on his way out the door Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide said landing another star “… is certainly possible, teams like our assets.” What assets? There is nothing on the Magic roster a rebuilding team like the Hornets would want. Brandon Bass and J.J. Redick don’t cut it. And it’s hard to make a move with the Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu contracts sitting there.

But for now the Magic are intent on trying to keep Howard, and so that train has slowed way down.

Chris Paul, on the other hand, is very likely to be traded sooner rather than later.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.