The Los Angeles Lakers abruptly withdrew from the Chris Paul sweepstakes Saturday night after more than 24 hours of unsuccessful attempts to restructure a three-team deal with the New Orleans Hornets and Houston Rockets that would meet with the approval of NBA commissioner David Stern, according to sources close to the process.
The Lakers informed the league-owned Hornets and the Rockets they were pulling out of the stonewalled deal, sources said, and instead trading Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas is able to accommodate Odom's $8.9 million salary without surrendering any prized assets thanks to a new trade exception created through the Mavericks' three-team deal with New York and Washington earlier Saturday that landed Tyson Chandler with the Knicks.
Sources said the Lakers, in return for shedding the unhappy Odom's salary and sending him to a team one source close to the situation said he's "excited" to join, will receive Dallas' 2012 first-round pick and possibly additional draft considerations.
"To be honest with you, I don't like it," Kobe Bryant said Sunday, according to The Associated Press.
The shellshocked Hornets will try to recover swiftly from the collapsed trade and remain determined to trade Paul as soon as possible. Sources told ESPN.com the Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the "early front-runner" to land Paul.
The Golden State Warriors are also expected to stay in the bidding, with the Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Clippers' Eric Gordon known to be the two players coveted most by the Hornets' basketball people throughout their aggressive search for a Paul deal.
The union plans to speak with Paul Sunday to gauge how he wants to go forward and how vigorously he may want to fight the league's ruling, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.
While Paul is despondent, he also understands that a drawn-out battle with the league, whether in the courts or elsewhere, could lead to heavy public backlash in New Orleans, the sources added.
The Lakers, meanwhile, will now focus on trying to outduel the New Jersey Nets in trade talks for Dwight Howard. The Orlando Magic center publicly confirmed Saturday that he has asked to be traded, with the Nets, Lakers and Mavs on his wish list. Sources told Broussard that the Magic will ask for both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for Howard; ESPN.com reported last week that the Nets are prepared to send center Brook Lopez and two future first-round picks to the Magic as well as offer to take back the cap-clogging contract of Hedo Turkoglu to facilitate the deal.
ESPN.com reported earlier Saturday that the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets had presented a new framework of the deal that Stern vetoed Thursday. Sources say the teams kept trying to tweak the deal throughout, only to be met by ongoing resistance from the league office, which wanted the Hornets to come away with more youth and/or draft picks in exchange for the face of the franchise.
The original three-team trade construction called for Gasol to land in Houston and the Hornets to acquire Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Odom to move into their starting lineup in addition to guard Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick. Yet sources say frustration boiled over Saturday as the various tweaks proposed by the teams -- who tried to bring additional teams into the deal in search of more assets to meet Stern's requirements -- were consistently knocked back.
As one source close to the talks said late Saturday: "We were all sick of it" by the time that the Lakers decided to walk away.
The Hornets remain under pressure to find a palatable deal for Paul, who can become a free agent in July 2012 and has already told the franchise that he does not intend to sign an extension. In addition to New Orleans' natural desire to find a new home for Paul as quickly as possible to avoid the sort of soap opera that engulfed the Denver Nuggets last season until they traded Carmelo Anthony in February, league officials now technically in charge of the Hornets also know that the National Basketball Player's Association has hinted at soon pursuing legal action on Paul's behalf if a new trade is not hashed out.
Paul spoke extensively with the union on Thursday, after Stern squashed the original three-team trade, about what legal options were available. It remains to be seen how the Players Association will react to Saturday's events, but sources told Broussard that union representatives told Stern on Friday they would pursue litigation if a deal is not consummated by Monday. One possible claim, sources told Broussard, is collusion, which could wind up taking the case to Federal Court.
The Clippers, at least, present a plausible trade partner for Paul, given all the young assets possessed by the Lakers' Staples Center co-tenants. Sources say that Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe and the expiring contract of Chris Kaman are among the pieces that have been made available to New Orleans this week, but it's believed the Clippers can clinch a trade for Paul if they include either Gordon or Minnesota's unprotected 2012 first-round pick in the deal.
The Clippers, to date, have been unwilling to offer either Gordon or the Minnesota pick without an assurance from Paul that he's willing to stay with Blake Griffin's team beyond this season.
Recovering from the collapsed deal might be hardest for the Rockets, who so badly coveted Gasol and, according to sources, believed that acquiring the Spaniard would give them a strong chance of signing Nuggets free agent Nene to play center. Houston is now expected try to sign Nene or Samuel Dalembert as its replacement for the retired Yao Ming, albeit without Gasol as a frontcourt partner, while also trying to mend fences with Martin and Scola, who were held out of practice Saturday and thought they were on the verge of being sent to New Orleans.
As for Dallas, Odom's arrival is an intriguing and fast response to owner Mark Cuban's decision to let Chandler go in free agency, which was met with much disappointment locally given the 7-footer's role as a culture-changer defensively in the Mavericks' first championship season in franchise history.
Determined to have a significant amount of salary-cap space for the summer of 2012 and the pursuit of players like Howard, Paul and Dallas-area native Deron Williams, Cuban decided the Mavericks couldn't afford to match the offers Chandler was getting on the open market without hampering the Mavericks' future ability to find a younger cornerstone player to flank star forward Dirk Nowitzki.
But because Odom can be bought out of his contract next season for just under $3 million, and thanks to the trade exception spawned by Chandler's move to the Knicks, Dallas had the ability to snag the versatile left-hander from the Lakers without affecting Cuban's plan to have major cap space in the summer of 2012. As a bonus, L.A.'s decision to make Howard its focus and pull out of the three-team talks means that the rest of the Western Conference must no longer fear the prospect of Howard and Paul winding up on the same Lakers team with Bryant.
Marc Stein is a senior writer for ESPN.com.