The Los Angeles Clippers‘ options for dealing Eric Bledsoe, should they reverse course and decide to part with their prized young point guard, appear to be increasing before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com late Saturday that there is a level of mutual interest between the Clippers and Utah Jazz in exploring a deal that would feature Bledsoe as the headliner in a trade package for Jazz forward Paul Millsap.
Although two sources with knowledge of the Clippers’ thinking insisted during All-Star Weekend that Bledsoe would not be moved in coming days and strongly predicted that L.A. would stand pat, two other sources indicated that the Clippers and Jazz will at least discuss the feasibility of a trade headlined by Bledsoe and Millsap before the deadline.
The Boston Celtics have expressed the league’s most well-chronicled interest in trading for Bledsoe, through a deal that would require Celtics forward Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause so Boston could send Garnett to L.A. for Bledsoe and either young center DeAndre Jordan or veteran forward Caron Butler.
But Garnett was adamant Saturday in a media session with reporters in conjunction with the East’s All-Star practice in Houston that there is no scenario in which he’d consent to waive the no-trade clause, irrespective of his close relationship with Clippers guard Chauncey Billups or the fact that he makes his offseason home in Malibu.
The Clippers have been telling teams for weeks that they value Bledsoe too highly to move him now. It’s widely presumed that he’ll be traded eventually, given the fact he’s playing behind Chris Paul and is only expected to continue to improve, but rival executives have been pessimistic about the likelihood of prying Bledsoe away until Paul is signed to a long-term deal, which won’t happen until July. Bledsoe himself, furthermore, isn’t a restricted free agent until the summer of 2014, which is said to only add to the desire of Clippers management to be patient.
Yet there is a school of thought that the Clippers’ best move to increase the chances of the sort of deep playoff run that would clinch Paul’s signature on a new long-term deal this summer is trying to trade for Garnett or Boston teammate Paul Pierce to fortify the roster with more playoff experience.
The appeal of Millsap, by contrast, is that he’d conceivably help the Clippers in the frontcourt immediately as well as in the future because of his age (28). Utah’s interest in finding a good young point guard, meanwhile, is an open secret around the league that has led to longstanding speculation that either Millsap or Al Jefferson would be moved by the deadline, given that both are scheduled to become free agents like Paul in July.
Bledsoe, 23, would certainly appear to fit well with with the Jazz as they retool around a younger core of Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. Utah also has an immediate need at point guard as it awaits the return of Mo Williams from a thumb injury after Williams. — acquired from the Clippers over the summer — completes the final year of his contract.
But the Clippers would have to add at least one player to a Millsap deal to make the salary-cap math work if talks progressed to a serious level. And sources say L.A.’s front office remains wary of breaking up or shaking up its current roster, which generated a franchise-record 17 wins in a row in January and is finally back to full strength with the recent returns of Paul, Griffin, Billups, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill from injury.
Referring specifically to the oft-mentioned idea of surrendering Bledsoe to get Garnett, after praising Garnett’s “intensity” profusely, Paul told reporters in Houston on Saturday: “I think people are just talking.”
In an interview Friday with ESPN Radio, Garnett said: “[Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge], since Day 1, even when Ray (Allen) was here, the first day we got there he always told us he would do whatever he had to do to make the team better, he wouldn’t put guys above the team. That was the foundation and we all understood that, never had a problem with it. I’ve always told him where I was as far as being a Celtic. My expectations were not to come back to be traded. We both understand that, but this is a business and you have to understand that.
“It’s my preference (that) I will retire a Celtic and be buried in green and that’s where it stands. As far as the organization, where they feel they want to go, their visions for the future, I can’t speak on that. You have to ask them that. For right now, this is what it is. If it changes, I’ll have to deal with that.”