The Los Angeles Clippers' new strategy, in the wake of NBA commissioner David Stern's public comments Thursday expressing serious misgivings about the legitimacy of the proposed trade of Kevin Garnett and a corresponding transaction that would transport Celtics coach Doc Rivers from Boston to L.A. as a package deal, is to pursue Rivers first and roll the dice on acquiring Garnett and Paul Pierce later, sources told ESPN.
The Clippers' primary target now is Rivers, whom sources said team owner Donald Sterling already has signed off on paying upward of $7 million a year for five years. Boston would require compensation for Rivers, who is still under contract for three years and $21 million with the Celtics.
The Clippers' new challenge, sources say, is thus twofold. They must offer enough in compensation to persuade Boston to let Rivers go -- which would likely cement the signature of star guard Chris Paul on a new contract when he becomes a free agent -- and then hope any subsequent trade agreement they pursue for Garnett is ultimately approved by the league as a separate transaction not contingent on the hiring of Rivers.
Should the Clippers pursue this strategy, it would be with the understanding they could end up with only Rivers.
League sources told ESPN.com on Thursday morning that previous constructions of the proposed transactions -- which would've sent Garnett to Los Angeles for DeAndre Jordan and Rivers to the Clippers with two first-round picks as compensation for the coach -- were unlikely to be approved by the league office.
Sources told ESPN.com that league officials in recent days had communicated to both teams they had serious misgivings about the proposed transactions because Garnett and Rivers have been shopped by the Celtics as a package deal, which would violate NBA rules prohibiting contingencies or side deals in any trade.
In the wake of an ESPN.com report Thursday morning regarding the NBA's concerns, Stern appeared on both "The Herd" on ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio New York and confirmed that the prospect of the Celtics and Clippers trying to submit the deals for Garnett and Rivers as separate transactions would not be permissible under league bylaws.
"I would say that if we know that what the parties really wanted to do is one [trade] and they're going to break it into two for the purposes of trying to avoid the restrictions that the collective bargaining agreement places on it, we know how to deal with that as well," Stern told ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd.
In a subsequent interview with ESPN New York's Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco on 98.7 FM, when asked why the league wouldn't regard the two deals as separate, Stern said: "If you think those [deals], at this point having been all over the media for the last week, are separate transactions, when you get back from Miami, Stephen A., I have a bridge that I would very much enjoy selling to you."
The Celtics and Clippers awoke Thursday, sources said, seemingly close to an agreement on two transactions that would land Garnett and Rivers in Los Angeles. The first was a proposed one-for-one player swap sending Jordan for Garnett, who would waive his no-trade clause to clinch the deal. The second move called for the Clippers to convey two first-round picks to Boston as compensation for the Celtics agreeing to let Rivers out of his contract.
League rules not only prohibit coaches from being formally "traded" but likewise prevent teams from making any trade or free-agent signing with contingencies or side deals attached. So it would be incumbent on the Celtics and Clippers to convince the league office that these transactions would be made independently. Yet, one source with knowledge of the talks told ESPN.com that the Celtics and Clippers have been negotiating for days well aware that league rules likely would prohibit the transactions.
Because of Thursday's complications, and Game 7 of the NBA Finals, sources said it would be unlikely for anything to be resolved Thursday night.
In fact, the Clippers were determined to be "patient" before pushing ahead in new talks, knowing that at least two of the three candidates they interviewed -- Brian Shaw, Byron Scott and Lionel Hollins -- likely will be available for as long as it takes to resolve the situation with Rivers. Shaw and Hollins have both interviewed in Denver.