The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks. While the Rivers component of the deal was technically separate from the trading of players and picks, the league has informed the teams that the mere appearance that there is value being attached to Rivers is not in accordance with the league's collective bargaining agreement.
One league official expressed significant skepticism that this deal would happen in any form. NBA Commissioner David Stern addressed the issue on Thursday while appearing on ESPN Radio in New York.
"I would say, uh, in the language of diplomacy that the teams are aware that the collective bargaining agreement doesn't authorize trades involving coaches contracts," Stern said. "The only consideration that can be done here in player transactions is other players, draft picks, and a very limited amount of cash. But coaches contracts don't qualify as extra consideration, or acceptable consideration in player transactions. The teams know that. It has been confirmed to them. And...what the rules won't allow can't be gotten around by breaking it up into two transactions."
When asked if that meant Rivers wouldn't be joining the Clippers, Stern said, "I'm not saying more. That's it."
Rivers has three years and $21 million left on his contract, but he wants to join Garnett, point guard and free-agent-to-be Chris Paul and, eventually, small forward Paul Pierce with the Clippers to contend for a title rather than take part in the Celtics' rebuilding era that is drawing closer. The Clippers have told people involved in the situation that they plan to pay him approximately $7 million annually.
The deal could still get done, but one of two adjustments may need to be made: The Celtics may need to offer more in the deal than just Garnett, with draft picks the most logical possibility; the Clippers, who have been attempting to give up just one first-round draft pick, may be allowed to give up less in the trade. The real trade value of the 37-year-old is at the center of this discussion, as the idea that Boston could net two first-round draft picks and a respectable replacement in Jordan who is 13 years younger clearly doesn't calculate for league officials.
If this trade is completed, it's expected that Pierce would be bought out by Boston this summer and sign with the Clippers as a free agent. Pierce, a Los Angeles native, is only guaranteed $5 million of his $15.3 million earnings for next season if he's cut before June 30.
Talks had ended between the two teams on Tuesday, when the Clippers claimed they were moving forward in their coaching search without Rivers. But talks resumed a day later, in part, because Paul — who is expected to re-sign with the Clippers — reiterated his stance that he wanted to play for Rivers.
This isn't the first time the NBA has been involved in a trade relating to Paul that he wanted to happen, as the New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers had a deal to put him on the Lakers in December 2011. Stern, who was acting on behalf of the Hornets because the league had ownership of the team at the time, vetoed it. Stern said at the time that the decision was made for "basketball reasons.