The Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Clippers have been discussing the possibility of completing a trade headlined by Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo and prized L.A. point guard Eric Bledsoe in conjunction with Thursday's NBA draft, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that a trade with those two players as the principals could happen as soon as this week and potentially could be expanded to include Magic forward Andrew Nicholson and a future first-round pick as compensation for the highly coveted Bledsoe.
But the long-awaited arrival of Doc Rivers as the Clippers' new coach and senior vice president of basketball operations could push any Bledsoe trade into July -- or maybe even longer -- because Rivers is a well-known Bledsoe fan who has indicated he'd like to keep Bledsoe around if possible.
The greater likelihood remains, however, that keeping Bledsoe around as Chris Paul's very capable backup is a luxury the Clippers won't be able to afford as they continue to try to construct a roster with title-contending staying power. It's been a working assumption in league circles the Clippers would try to trade Bledsoe before next season as soon as they were certain that Paul would re-sign this summer after becoming a free agent on July 1.
ESPN.com reported Sunday that the Clippers believe now that the hiring of Rivers has clinched Paul's signature on a new five-year max contract at the earliest permissible date, July 12. And they've been operating for months under the premise that they'd have to entertain trade offers for Bledsoe regardless or risk losing him for nothing as a restricted free agent in summer 2014. Paul, himself, has been vocal about the fact that, in his view, Bledsoe deserves to be the starter elsewhere.
The 23-year-old has been the focus of trade talks for some time, seemingly since the Clippers fought so hard to keep him out of the trade to bring Paul to L.A. Sources say Orlando is only one of a half-dozen teams pursuing Bledsoe after Boston was rebuffed in its attempts to acquire Bledsoe as an offshoot of the Rivers' negotiations.
Afflalo -- one of the centerpieces of Orlando's haul from the Dwight Howard trade last summer – would give the Clippers more outside shooting and some of the sticky perimeter defense that they've lacked in recent seasons.
Clippers veteran forward Caron Butler likely would be included in the deal to make the salary-cap math work, but sources say the teams are discussing a variety of options. And Rivers, just handed a large say in personnel matters by the Clippers, has to weigh in.
Bledsoe is eligible to sign a contract extension this summer with the Clippers or any team that acquires him between mid-July and Halloween that would prevent him from reaching restricted free agency in 2014. The Clippers previously have resisted virtually all trade interest in Bledsoe to guard against the prospect of Paul leaving the organization via free agency, but the triumphant ending to L.A.'s drawn-out pursuit of Rivers has alleviated those doubts.