Kupchak says Lakers still pursuing “big deals”

Yes, the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers used the plural.

And with Chris Paul still brooding in New Orleans and with Dwight Howard in damage control mode in Orlando, and with the Los Angeles Clippers dance with the Hornets suffering from fits and starts, we are sort of back in the same place we were six days ago when commissioner David Stern turned the NBA on its head.

The Lakers no longer have one of the trade assets that would have been used in the three-team trade to acquire Paul, with Lamar Odom having been dispatched to Dallas.

But sometimes the big trades are the ones you don’t hear about until they are official (see Deron Williams to New Jersey), and Kupchak came right out and said Monday that the Lakers are “pursuing big deals right now.”

“More than one big deal.”

Hmmm.

It has now been four days since the Orlando Magic gave permission to Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, to pursue trades with the New Jersey Nets, the Dallas Mavericks and the Lakers.

Dell Demps has been working the phones tirelessly in New Orleans, but it is clear his power has been usurped by the league office, which has vetoed two at least one trade and probably two — the latest being the proposed trade with the Clippers that would have sent some combination of Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and Minnesota’s unprotected No. 1 draft pick to New Orleans.

The Nets have been sitting still, with no movement on and sign-and-trade deals involving their best free agent, Kris Humphries, and no use of their amnesty clause on Travis Outlaw, whose dismissal would give New Jersey an extra $7 million in salary cap space to absorb additional players.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 free agent remains Nene, who probably would have end up in Houston by now if the original three-team Chris Paul trade had not been vetoed. Another top free agent, Jamal Crawford, remains similarly idle. And Andrei Kirilenko is still in Russia, getting ready for undefeated CSKA Moscow’s Euroleague tilt against Panathinaikos on Wednesday night. Other remaining unsigned free agents include Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Afflalo, Carl Landry, Samuel Dalembert and Nick Young.

Clearly, there is a holding pattern in which dominoes are still expected to fall.

From Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: “Opportunity,” Kupchak said. “The environment has been dormant up until the day (team executives) were cut loose to go (pursue trades) … There were no discussions (before that). Nobody knew who wanted to be where … (or) what the present rules were, what the future rules are and, you know, nothing. Just some innuendo and some rumor you’d hear every now and then, but when we were cut loose two weeks ago, everything changed. You have to deal with those opportunities as they come up.” One of those opportunities continues to be Paul after a proposed trade between the Clippers and Hornets that was close to going through seems to have been put on hold. Kupchak did not speak in specifics, but hinted that other players could be involved than were originally reported in the three-team deal between Houston, New Orleans and L.A. that would have made Paul a Laker for Odom and Gasol and then sent Gasol to the Rockets for Luis ScolaKevin MartinGoran Dragic and a 2012 first round pick. “A lot of the players that were in (the vetoed trade), nobody even knows who they are,” Kupchak said. To an extent, he seemed to be still reeling from the vetoed trade. “It was completely unexpected. I’m not sure if it ever happened before. I’m not sure if it will ever happen again,” Kupchak said. “I was completely surprised. We did the best we can to express our displeasure, but to date, there’s been no change.”

In Orlando, Howard was singing a different tune after airing his frustrations with Magic management and exposing a rift between himself and general manager Otis Smith two days earlier. He said he could be persuaded to stay if team officials are “willing to change.”

“There’s no place I would rather be but here in Orlando,” Howard said. “And I just want to make sure that we have the right things here so we can win a championship. And I’m all about change. If you’re willing to change and you’re willing to do what it takes to win, then, you know, you’ve got me.”

From Shannon J. Owens of the Orlando Sentinel: “I was fine with Howard questioning Smith’s trade decisions and his lack of involvement in those, an assertion Smith denies. But publicly calling out his seven-year relationship with Smith after the two didn’t speak for a couple days after Howard’s trade request was just childish. “Otis has been up in his office trying to work additional piece for this organization so he’s got a lot of work to do besides just watching practice,” said Magic President Alex Martins. I wouldn’t be surprised if they talk [Monday]. They’ve got a good relationship, they really do and they’ll sit down and continue to talk about this.” This is turning into another classic sports drama of he said-he said and Howard has the power to stop this. Howard’s decision to criticize the Magic’s management to the media doesn’t help rebuild relationships he believes are eroding. It’s certainly not a healthy sign for long-term commitment and it doesn’t create a comfortable environment for his teammates either who are anxiously waiting to see what the future holds. Can you imagine how uncomfortable the New England Patriots’ team environment would have been if Tom Brady would have publicly ripped first-year offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien for his sideline tongue lashing Sunday? Instead, Brady took the high road when asked about the situation. Not because he was right or wrong, but because that’s what is expected from leaders. “Billy and I have a great relationship. It’s just venting on both of our parts,” (Brady) said. If Howard would have said that Monday, then maybe it’d be easier to believe his announcement that he’s entertaining the idea of staying. Instead, he allowed the frustration to simmer and everyone around him is forced to marinate in this mess. Professional athletes always say this is a business and not personal. But Howard’s business with Smith should never have been made personal and public.”

As for the Clippers, they reportedly received a commitment from Paul that he would not opt out of his contract at the conclusion of this season, which would keep him with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for at least two seasons.

But the winds were constantly shifting on that proposed deal.

From Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports: “Plenty of people in the league – including some in Paul’s camp – are skeptical of the NBA’s intentions to trade him, questioning whether league officials are merely going through an exercise to protect themselves against legal liability, preferring instead to have Paul on the Hornets’ roster when the team is finally sold to a new owner. While there’s been no official transition of power, Hornets general manager Dell Demps has been completely pushed to the side in deal-making decisions for the team, multiple league sources told Y! Sports. “He’s basically a spectator now,” one official said. … “Stern has made them inoperable,” one prominent agent told Yahoo! Sports. “I’ve given up trying to do anything with them until the Paul situation is resolved. It’s very unfair to Dell. … Very unfair what the league is doing to him right now.”

From Marc Stein and Chris Broussard of ESPN.com: “The talks hit an impasse earlier Monday when the Clippers decided that the league’s asking price for the All-Star guard was too high. Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers balked when the Hornets, at the league’s insistence, asked for the Clippers’ top five trade pieces in exchange for Paul: Eric GordonChris KamanAl-Farouq AminuEric Bledsoe and Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 first-round draft pick. Sources close to the talks insisted Monday night that both Gordon and the Minnesota pick were in the package that would be going to New Orleans. The Clippers found the demands “too steep,” according to one source close to the process. … “The Hornets wanted “everybody,” one source said. That meant both prized shooting guard Gordon and the highly coveted Minnesota pick, with requests at various points in the day from NBA negotiators Stu Jackson and Joel Litvin for Bledsoe and an additional first-round pick as well. The latter two requests, sources said, were met with particular dismay by the Clippers, since they are already so skittish about surrendering both Gordon and the Timberwolves’ pick. It was not immediately known how many of those assets the Clippers will be able to keep out of the latest round of talks, but Clippers general manager Neil Olshey acknowledged at a Monday afternoon news conference that the trade could be revived if some of the parameters change. The Clippers are likewise open, sources said, to the recruitment of an additional team to add to the deal, since they ultimately still want Paul, knowing that acquiring him now is their best chance of securing a long-term commitment from Griffin “Everything’s over,” Olshey said, “until it’s reborn again.”

From Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “The NBA has become a parade of fools and shallow storylines. It’s like NASCAR, or pro wrestling, or bubble gum. That initial burst of flavor, that rush, is addicting. But it’s a short-lived high, and after you chew on it for a while, it loses its flavor and you realize there was no substance there in the first place. The worst part is, people are starting to see right through it all. As more than one person involved in the NBA for the better part of their adult lives told me in recent days, this is an embarrassing time to be associated with the sport. “Deplorable,” said one of those people, who is supposed to be making his living running a team in a professional sports league, but instead feels as though he’s stuck in a bad reality TV series where sensationalism and gotcha moments are all that matter. … The most perceptive and telling quote about the whole fiasco came from Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who as president of the National Basketball Players Association got a glimpse behind the curtain at the brutal, dictatorial and increasingly shortsighted way the NBA is run. Time after time throughout the summer and fall, Fisher would emerge from 12- and 15-hour bargaining sessions looking as though he’d just learned where the bodies were buried. “I just think the overall approach to things in this business is getting a little bit difficult to stomach,” Fisher said.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks lost another starter (at least he was a starter in the finals against Miami) when J.J. Barea agreed to terms with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a four-year deal worth a reported $19.1 million.

Barea also had been pursued by the New York Knicks, who are now capped out and have only the new $2.5 million “room exception” available to them as they look to upgrade at both guard positions.

From Raul Alzega of Primero Hora in Puerto Rico: “”I honestly was not that hard. It was my moment. I have 27 years, is my ‘peak’ and we must seize it. I would love to be a contender, but this is a job and with this decision just to ensure the future of my family, “said Barea, who also had offers from the Knicks for $ 5 million and two years or $ 9 million and three years. … There are many fans of Puerto Rico where they wanted to see me in that (Knicks) uniform and the game system I liked. But it was not even close. The difference was very big money. In addition. Minnesota has always been of the teams that showed more interest. Now I will go there to leave my soul and my heart for them, as I did in Dallas. “

From Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork: “If the Knicks want to sign Shawne Williams, they may only have two more days — at most — to make their pitch. Williams’ agent Happy Walters told ESPNNewYork.com by phone Monday that he expects Williams to commit to a team by Wednesday. The free-agent forward had a breakout season in New York last year.  Walters has been in contact with the Knicks in recent days. “They know where we stand. We know where we stand,” he said. … After a season in which he made a career-high 40% of his 3-point attempts and showed value as a defender, Williams has likely commanded strong offers from other suitors. The Mavericks, Heat and Lakers have all reportedly shown interest in Williams.

In Denver, the Nuggets have only seven players under contract. But as we learned last season when the MeloDrama dominated the rumor mill for three months, the Nuggets can be extremely patient people.

From Dave Krieger of the Denver Post: “Denver has the additional advantage of being able to offer (Nene) a longer contract than anybody else. Under terms of the new labor agreement, the Nuggets can offer five years; nobody else can offer more than four. Before the 150-day lockout, when he still had an option year on his previous deal, the Nuggets offered him a package worth $50 million over four years. If they stay with a similar annual average, they can now offer him a five-year deal worth more than $62 million. Given that the Nuggets currently have only about $25 million committed for this season — with a salary cap of $58 million and a floor of $49 million — they probably have done just that. Afflalo is a slightly more complicated case because the marketplace is assigning a value to other players of similar standing likely to make the Nuggets gulp. Sacramento just gave Marcus Thornton $31 million over four years. The Clippers gave veteran Caron Butler $24 million over three. So you have to assume that Afflalo’s representatives are looking for something in the neighborhood of $8 million per.”

From Colin Stephenson of the Newark Star-Ledger: If Dwight Howard isn’t traded to the Nets by the end of the week, the Nets will move on to their contingency plans and seek alternative means of filling out their roster, a person who has been briefed on the team’s thinking said. The person asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the team’s negotiations. “It won’t go past this week,” the person said, adding that while Howard is the No. 1 target, the Nets “have a Plan A, B, C and D.” Plan B would appear to be free-agent center Nene, who has the same agent as Howard, Dan Fegan. Free agent Kris Humphries, who averaged a double-double for the Nets last season, would be one of the team’s other options. The person said, however, that if the Nets walk away from a trade for Howard this week, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t make another attempt to trade for him during the season. The trade deadline is March 15.

For more NBA news from the past 24 hours, check out yesterday’s evening news roundup and morning news roundup.

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