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Clippers’ Paul Trade May Turn NBA Losers Into Rival for Lakers

Clippers’ Paul Trade May Turn NBA Losers Into Rivals
Chris Paul, seen here, was traded to the Clippers six days after NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed a deal that would have sent the four-time All-Star from the New Orleans Hornets to the Lakers as part of a three-team transaction including the Houston Rockets. Photographer: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The acquisition of Chris Paul may push the Los Angeles Clippers out of the shadow of the arena-sharing Lakers, who almost got the National Basketball Association All-Star last week.

The Clippers and Lakers have shared Los Angeles for the past 27 years, during which time the Lakers have won eight NBA championships and the Clippers have had two winning seasons.

Now, teamed with NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion Blake Griffin, point guard Paul is part of a team that could compete for the loyalties of Hollywood stars and local fans starting next week in a pair of preseason games at the Staples Center.

“These ain’t your father’s Clippers any more,” the team’s radio announcer, Brian Sieman, wrote last night on the club’s website. “After years of finishing in last place, the source of talk show hosts’ jokes, being LA’s other team -- the Clippers have seized their opportunity.”

Paul, 26, was traded to the Clippers six days after NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed a deal that would have sent the four-time All-Star from the New Orleans Hornets to the Lakers as part of a three-team transaction including the Houston Rockets.

In exchange for Paul and two second-round draft picks in 2015, the league-owned Hornets will get guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round draft pick.

“The proposed transaction that we have tonight is a very good transaction and better for the future of the Hornets than the transaction on which I did not sign off,” Stern said last night in a conference call with reporters. “I knew that we were doing the best thing for New Orleans, that was my job. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but I don’t get paid to have fun.”

Stern’s Final Say

The league’s 29 other team owners own the Hornets and are trying to sell the club. Though Hornets Chairman Jac Sperling and General Manager Dell Demps run the franchise and engage in trade talks, the league has final say on proposed deals.

Stern said there was no conflict of interest in his roles as NBA commissioner and overseer of the Hornets.

“There was always going to be a level of discomfort, but I didn’t consider it to be rooting for a team or against a team,” Stern said on the conference call. “There was only one thing we were interested in, and that was to get the best value.”

Paul has averaged 18.7 points and 9.9 assists per game during his six-season career. He played 80 games last season after being limited to 45 the previous campaign following surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Paul told the Hornets he didn’t want to sign a contract extension and could have become a free agent after the 2011-12 season. He made $14.9 million last season with the Hornets, who went 46-36 in 2010-11 and lost to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in six games in the first round of the playoffs.

Paul and Griffin

He is coming to a team that went 32-50 last season and hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2006. Griffin, last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, led the Clippers with averages of 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.

Demps said the Hornets were satisfied with the players and the draft pick they got in return for Paul.

“This transaction here gives the team a long-term foundation, we’re getting some exciting young players in the program,” he said on the conference call. “For the long-term future of the New Orleans Hornets, this is the best move.”

Gordon, who is entering his fourth NBA season, averaged 22.3 points and 4.4 assists per game in 2010-11. Kaman, a 2010 All-Star, had a left ankle injury last season and was limited to 32 games, averaging 12.4 points and seven rebounds per contest. Aminu, a forward, played in eight games as a rookie last season for the Clippers.

Neil Olshey, the Clippers’ vice president of basketball operations, said Paul is the type of player who should make Griffin and the rest of his new teammates better.

“We had to think, do we continue to build slowly and keep adding pieces through the draft?” Olshey said in a video clip on the Clippers’ website. “We just decided for a player of Chris’s caliber that it was time to make a move and push all our chips into the center of the table.”

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