The San Diego Clippers have signed a three-year contract to play in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, but an NBA official said it's extremly unlikely the transfer could take effect in time for next season.

"It's a long, involved process to shift a franchise," said Brian McIntyre, the league's director of public relations. "The Clippers will have to make a formal request to the Board of Governors. Then, it would go to committee for extensive study before a presentation could be made to owners.

"The owners' meeting is only two weeks away and I don't see how all this could be accomplished and be ready for a vote by then," McIntyre said, adding that there could be legal action from San Diego to further delay the move.

The Clippers still have a four-year contract with the San Diego Sports Arena, but there is a provision in which they can get out by paying $125,000 for each of the remaining years of the pact.

Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers, refused comment yesterday, but Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, said that officials have not yet spoken to NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien about the move. O'Brien was flying to Los Angeles last night and not available for comment.

Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and a good friend of Sterling, told the Associated Press, "I wouldn't have any problems with the move. In fact, I would welcome the competition."

The NBA has a rule, giving each team a 75-mile radius of exclusive territory, but apparently Buss has told Sterling he will not demand any indemnity.

The Lakers played at the Sports Arena, which has a capacity of about 15,000, before the Forum was built in nearby Inglewood. The Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, which recently won an antitrust battle to bring the Oakland Raiders to town, has been looking for a tenant for its arena.

"I don't know if Los Angeles is ready for two NBA teams," Bob Ferry, general manager of the Washington Bullets, said. "The Lakers never really caught on until recently. The Clippers aren't going to draw unless they win."

San Diego had the second-worst record in the NBA last season (17-65) and attracted an average of only 5,477 fans per game, lowest in the league.

In another development involving an NBA franchise yesterday, the Houston Rockets are considering offers to buy the team from four or five sources, according to General Manager Ray Patterson.

"If one of the parties shows that it is really serious, then yes, there is a possibility that the club will be sold," Patterson said. The Rockets also are involved in trying to sign free agent Moses Malone, reportedly offering the 6-foot-10 rebounding champion $1.9 million a year.