A deal so quick, it just might give pause

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Brod­er­ick Turner

NBA teams aren’t al­lowed to be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing with free-agent play­ers un­til 9 p.m. PDT on Fri­day.

So how was it that Chris Paul in­formed the Clip­pers on Tues­day, three days be­fore that win­dow was to open, that he wanted to join the Hous­ton Rock­ets?

The ques­tion was posed to sev­eral team ex­ec­u­tives around the league, who all spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of the topic.

“I don’t want to use the ‘T’ word — tam­per­ing — but we all don’t play by the rules when it comes to mak­ing deals,” one East­ern Con­fer­ence ex­ec­u­tive said. “Be­sides, no­body is go­ing to rat any­body out. That’s how this league works.”

Less than 24 hours af­ter

in­form­ing Clip­pers of­fi­cials of his wishes, Paul was traded to the Rock­ets on Wed­nes­day in ex­change for seven play­ers and a 2018 first-round draft pick.

Be­fore the deal hap­pened, he opted back in — ear­lier he had opted out — to his $24mil­lion con­tract for next sea­son, which saved the Rock­ets time and money.

Be­yond the typ­i­cal “how it leaves the Clip­pers/what it does for the Rock­ets” dis­course, the move prompted an ad­di­tional re­sponse in some of the league’s front of­fices. In sum­mary, some­thing along the lines of: “Hmmm. That was fast.”

“Ev­ery team is look­ing for an ad­van­tage,” one ex­ec­u­tive said. “The deal got done way too fast for some­body not to be talk­ing al­ready. That hap­pened real quick. But, hey, that’s how it goes in this league.”

An NBA of­fi­cial said the Clip­pers had not com­plained to the league, but sev­eral team ex­ec­u­tives won­dered whether the Rock­ets had a head start in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to one NBA ex­ec­u­tive, James Har­den, the Rock­ets’ all-star guard, had been re­cruit­ing Paul through­out the sea­son. An ex­ec­u­tive from an­other team said Har­den had al­ready told a fel­low NBA player that Paul’s go­ing to Hous­ton was a done deal.

Teams aren’t sup­posed to have con­ver­sa­tions with an­other team’s player un­til the free-agency pe­riod starts, but it hap­pens all the time through back chan­nels — play­ers talk­ing to other play­ers, or an agent spread­ing the word, nei­ther of which is against the rules — ac­cord­ing to the front-of­fice of­fi­cials through­out the league.

Dur­ing the 2015-16 sea­son, sev­eral peo­ple in the league said that Golden State War­riors play­ers doggedly re­cruited Kevin Du­rant, even while he played for the ri­val Ok­la­homa City Thun­der.

Af­ter that sea­son was over, Du­rant be­come an un­re­stricted free agent and joined the War­riors, with whom he won the NBA cham­pi­onship this sea­son.

“Ev­ery­body uses agents to do their dirty work or they have a star player talk to an­other player on an­other team,” one team ex­ec­u­tive said. “Then it doesn’t af­fect the [gen­eral man­ager].”

One player agent said that it made sense for NBA ex­ec­u­tives to talk about ac­quir­ing play­ers be­fore the free-agent mar­ket opens.

“Oth­er­wise, if they don’t, they can wait too late and lose out on a player,” the agent said. “It’s called job preser­va­tion for a front-of­fice ex­ec­u­tive.”

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