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Celtics-Clippers talks take a bizarre turn

Where will Doc Rivers coach next season? Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File

The proposed blockbuster deal between the Celtics and Clippers has taken another bizarre turn, placing it at risk of completely falling apart.

The Clippers have turned their focus to coach Doc Rivers, setting aside a deal for Kevin Garnett, a league source said. However, the Clippers have refused to offer compensation in exchange for Rivers, who is under contract with the Celtics for the next three years.

Such compensation, under terms the teams previously discussed, would be a first-round draft pick, but the Clippers have made no effort to offer that, the league source said.

That puts talks at a complete standstill. There is no deal at this point because neither team has agreed to any terms. The Celtics have an asking price, and the Clippers are refusing to meet it.


But the Clippers’ stance raises questions about why they would include an asset in an earlier form of a proposed deal — one that turned out to be against league rules — and not include it in a deal that could work.

“The Clippers want to make an effort without really having any chance of getting it done,” a league source said.

“Chris Paul’s camp wanted Doc and KG, and [owner] Donald Sterling and the Clippers did not. But they can’t come out and tell [Paul’s camp] that they don’t want to win, so they’re trying to dance around it and play both sides.”

Paul, the Clippers’ All-Star point guard, becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1 and it’s the Clippers’ top priority to re-sign him and, thus, appease him. It’s said that Rivers’s hiring would all but guarantee Paul re-signs with the Clippers.

League sources said, though, that if it was the Clippers’ intent to only give the impression — in other words, bluff — that they were trying to make a deal for Rivers, it’s unlikely Paul would re-sign. “I don’t see how that could possibly work and would not bite them in the [butt] with public relations and Chris Paul,” a league source said.


Key in all this, league sources added, is Sterling has been reluctant to part with assets, such as the first-round picks, and is wary of paying Rivers a high salary when the Clippers could pay another coach less.

Rivers’s current deal with the Celtics pays him $7 million per year, the richest salary in the NBA — $1 million more per year than San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.

“Sterling, he’d rather die with billions of dollars than have a championship,” a league source said.

Another league source said the chances of any deal being completed between the teams were slim.

The NBA office made it clear the terms of the proposed swap previously discussed were against the rules. Specifically, teams cannot trade coaches for players, but teams can trade coaches for other compensation, such as draft picks.

In 2007, for instance, Orlando sent a second-round pick and the option of swapping a first-round pick to Miami in exchange for coach Stan Van Gundy.

But the Clippers and Celtics had talked about a different kind of deal — one in which Rivers and Garnett would go to the Clippers in exchange for DeAndre Jordan and two first-round draft picks.

The league doesn’t allow side deals in transactions, and although the teams may have considered those two separate transactions — draft picks in return for Rivers, and then a player-for-player trade the league office disagreed.


“What the rules won’t allow, it can’t be gotten around by breaking it up into two transactions,” NBA commissioner David Stern said in a radio interview Thursday.

Both teams were informed days ago their supposed deal was against league rules, an NBA source said, which only adds to the deal’s bizarre nature.

No deal was ever brought to the league office Thursday, either.

When asked in the radio interview about the possibility that the deal could be broken up into two separate transactions, Stern laughed.

“If you think those would now — at this point, having been all over the media for the last week or so — are separate transactions . . . I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I would very much enjoy selling to you,” Stern said.

Because Rivers’s contract has a non-compete clause, he can’t coach anywhere else for the next three seasons — the duration of the Celtics deal he signed in 2011 — unless the Celtics grant permission.

Given how the current deal with the Clippers is unfolding, and the growing likelihood that completing any kind of deal is all but impossible, a league source expects Rivers to actually be coaching the Celtics next season.

It’s well-known Rivers has no interest in coaching a rebuilding team, but sources close to him maintain he still wants to coach.

If that is so, his only options on the table at the moment are with the Celtics or with the Clippers, and the latter option is fading fast.


Baxter Holmes can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @BaxterHolmes