Free Agents Dwight Howard, Chris Paul Planning Atlanta Rendezvous?

dwightchrispaulWords that are weighty with nothing but trouble for the Clippers, and maybe the Lakers and lots of others: “Vinny Del Negro is expected to meet with owner Donald Sterling this weekend.”

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Three weekends have come and gone since their season ended with no meeting. This poses a problem for Clipper officials who favor offing Vinny so Chris Paul can choose the coach. Of course, it will pose a worse problem if it upsets Paul as his contract runs out.

In any case, a league source says Paul will check out other teams, as Howard is expected to do. If Paul leaves, it could could pose a problem for the Lakers, who had enough already, if he and Dwight Howard decide to create a new option, joining up in Atlanta. Howard and Paul are pals. The Hawks can open up two maximum slots. They mused about Atlanta (D12’s from there, CP3 from North Carolina) years ago, before fate led them in other directions.

With or without the CP3-Atlanta scenario, re-signing Howard looks ever trickier amid reports he voiced his frustration about Mike D’Antoni. Not to mention his frustration with Kobe Bryant. ESPN L.A.’s Dave McMenamin reported Howard told GM Mitch Kupchak he felt marginalized by D’Antoni, who looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership but not him.

Worse, a league source told me that despite the apparent thaw between Howard and Bryant, Dwight complained privately about Kobe late in the season. If this summer wasn’t billed as an NBA-chang event, it was because insiders were sure Paul would stay, and Howard would accept the extra $30 mill from the Lakers, however grudgingly.

Now, for the first time, there are rumblings, like the shifting of tectonic plates. With five teams seeking coaches–pending further developments–and 30 teams that can use a superstar center or point guard, a lot of big pieces are in play. Besides Howard and Paul, free agents include Josh Smith, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Available coaches include Jerry Sloan, Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, Nate McMillan, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry, Doug Collins and Mike Dunleavy.

Then there’s Memphis’ red-hot Lionel Hollins, who’s only under contract through July 1.

If Cinderella teams and coaches don’t often part, the Grizz is under new management, which traded Rudy Gay, a move Hollins protested publicly.

The Grizzlies say they want to re-sign Hollins, but with widespread interest, they won’t get a bargain. Hollins just happens to be the Clippers’ new favorite option, should they turn out to need a coach. He’s reportedly on Brooklyn’s list. (In what may be pure coincidence, Sterling sat courtside at Game 1 of the Grizzlies-Spurs series in San Antonio.)

Thus, it’s a sobering thought for all involved if the linchpin at the middle of all this manpower is, my hero, Donald T. Sterling.

Next Page: Clippers Looking To Remain Relevant Despite Donald Sterling

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