- Associated Press - Thursday, December 8, 2011

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The framework of a three-team trade is in place to send Hornets All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, said a person familiar with the negotiations.

The Houston Rockets are the other team involved, the person told The Associated Press Thursday on condition of anonymity because the deal was not finalized.

The person said details of the trade were still being worked out Thursday evening and it was not immediately clear which other players were involved.

Paul can opt out of his current contract with New Orleans after this season, and the Hornets have been fielding trade offers in an effort to acquire new players for the star guard rather than letting him walk in free agency.

Speaking earlier Thursday, Hornets president Hugh Weber said the franchise has been preparing for months for the possibility that Paul would resist signing an extension in New Orleans, a move that would all but force a trade.

“We’ve been preparing for this moment for over a year and it’s not like we were surprised or caught flat-footed,” Weber said. “This is not a surprise. This is not something where we’ve been sitting around waiting to see what would happen. We’ve been managing this and taking control of the situation as best we can and we’re going to have a team that we believe achieves that objective of making this community proud.”

Paul, 26, averaged 15.8 points and 9.8 assists last season.

While he never said publicly that he wanted to play in a larger market, he did say before last season that he wants to play for a team that has a chance to contend for a title right away _ something he should get when he joins Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

The Hornets have been owned by the NBA since last December, when the league bought the club from founder George Shinn.

Despite the lockout and uncertainty over Paul’s future, fan support has been building in New Orleans, where the team has advertised their season-ticket drive as an effort to lure a permanent local buyer who is committed to keeping the team in Louisiana.

The Hornets have increased their season ticket base from a little more than 6,000 last season to just over 10,019 as of Thursday afternoon.

Owners and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday, the final step to ending the five-month lockout and paving the way for training camps and free agency to open Friday.

There was hope in small markets like New Orleans that after the lockout it would be easier for teams to hold on to their biggest stars. However, that apparently is not the case.

If this deal is approved one of the NBA’s biggest stars from the league-owned small-market Hornets will be moving to one of the NBA’s largest, richest markets.

Paul was drafted by the Hornets fourth overall out of Wake Forest in 2005.

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