First of all, lockout denial is required to continue (given the recent breakdown in talks) but assume the 2011/12 NBA Season still happens. Once the NBA resumes, the New Orleans Hornets will find themselves in a very difficult position.
With All-Star forward David West hitting free agency this summer and superstar point guard Chris Paul a free agent next July (assuming he opts out), the Hornets have to decide very quickly if and how to rebuild.
As detailed last month (Solving Problems: The Post-Chris Paul Hornets?), it isn’t worth it to keep West if Paul is going to leave in a year’s time.
If they don’t keep West, what are their odds at keeping Paul? That’s quite a Catch-22.
Additionally the Hornets are owned by the NBA itself (looking for a buyer). How much authority does General Manager Dell Demps have to make sweeping changes?
If Paul is dealt, there are going to be some cries of “unfair,” regardless of where he lands.
Couple that with the lockout that has already delayed and may cancel the season, when and how will the Hornets set themselves up for the future? Paul may have already played his final game for the Hornets.
Another wrinkle to consider – unless Paul approves of his destination and is willing to extend his contract, suitors with otherwise viable packages may withdraw from consideration.
Chris is in high demand and enough teams are harvesting cap room to try and sign him outright in 2012. If the NBA will allow an overhaul, Demps may be able to set the Hornets up for a nice future.
The Hornets have four primary rotation players in free agency this summer in Carl Landry, Marco Belinelli (restricted), Willie Green and West. Also on the market are Jason Smith and Aaron Gray.
The only young prospect on the team of note would be Quincy Pondexter. David Andersen’s $2.7 million has a tiny guarantee and may not be invited back.
That leaves just three veterans with Emeka Okafor at $40.5 million over the next three seasons, Trevor Ariza at $21.8 million (also three years) and Jarrett Jack with $10.4 million over two.
The Hornets gave the Los Angeles Lakers a hard time in the first round of the playoffs (six-game series) but with West injured (knee), the run was made almost entirely on the back of Paul who averaged 22 points and 11.5 assists.
If Chris is headed out, the Hornets may want to consider moving Okafor and/or Ariza along with him, especially if the return is youth-oriented. If New Orleans moves Paul for more established players, they’d need to retain enough personnel to field a team for the incoming talent.
Should the Hornets go for the complete and total youth movement or do they try to bridge the gap with a higher volume of experienced, quality pieces?
Deron Williams/Dwight Howard Unlikely
Paul, Howard and Williams are the big three free agents in 2012 (all with opt-outs).
Paul for Williams would near equal value for both teams. Howard would be a tremendous haul.
Unfortunately the Hornets aren’t going to have enough on paper to entice Williams or Howard to sign a long-term deal. The market in New Orleans isn’t big enough. The team isn’t close enough to a title.
If the Nets or Magic were faced with losing their star, they’d certainly welcome Paul but the hard part is getting Williams or Howard to buy in.
Los Angeles Lakers Send Andrew Bynum to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul
The Lakers weakest position is point guard. Derek Fisher is nearing the end. Steve Blake hasn’t panned as out as hoped and second-round pick Darius Morris has yet to play in an NBA game.
LA needs to start thinking about star power beyond Kobe Bryant and Paul might make a ton of sense for the Lakers.
Bynum is their “center of the future” but with Paul, the team would do fine with Pau Gasol at the five next to Lamar Odom.
If the Hornets want to get out of Okafor’s deal, given that he may not be the ideal fit next to Bynum, perhaps a bigger deal can be constructed with Emeka to the Lakers for Odom (if New Orleans is looking to clean house, maybe even Ariza back to Los Angeles in an even larger swap). They might also involve a third team, like the Atlanta Hawks, who are looking for a center.
Interesting for New Orleans is that Bynum’s $16.1 million salary in 2012 is a team option and Odom’s is guaranteed just $2.4 million.
Not that it’d be Plan A for the Hornets but a Laker deal could drop New Orleans’ overall salary to near zero salary after this coming season (except for Jack at $5.4 million).
The key is Bynum staying healthy. The Hornets wouldn’t be making a play for Andrew just to let him go the following year.
Given the issues Bynum has had with his knees, he’s not a sure thing . . . but then Paul has had his share of knee problems as well.
LA has historically built around a center (Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan) but arguably the most popular Laker of all time was a point guard, Magic Johnson.
It’d be a bold move for both teams.
The Oklahoma City Thunder Send Russell Westbrook, Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul
Westbrook is one of the league’s most exciting young point guards. Would the Thunder give him up for Paul?
The answer may not be so obvious given some of the chemistry concerns between Thunder star Kevin Durant and Westbrook.
If OK City retains some unspoken concerns (publicly) about Westbrook, Paul would fill the position with greater maturity and a more natural willingness to set up his teammates.
Durant is one of the most potent scorers in the league. Chris would arguably be a better fit than Westbrook, who is going into the final year of his contract and will be eligible for a long-term extension starting in 2012.
Russell would be a tremendous get for the Hornets.
Because of his age, Westbrook would probably be the better piece than Paul for the Thunder but only if the team is convinced he has a long, successful future ahead of him alongside Durant.
Robinson and Mohammed have expiring contracts to facilitate the numbers, although the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) may significantly change the rules. Until there’s labor peace, that’s what there is to work with.
The Los Angeles Clippers Send Chris Kaman, Eric Bledsoe and the Minnesota 2012 First-Round Pick (Unprotected) for Chris Paul
Bynum and Westbrook may not be available, assuming the Hornets have interest. The Clippers have a number of assets to offer should they make a run at Paul.
Kaman is going into the final year of his deal and he has, when healthy, proven to be an All-Star. Still, the Hornets primary goal here would be making a move for the future.
Bledsoe made the All-Rookie Second Team. He’s not the elite point guard that Paul is but he’s talented and athletic.
The Minnesota pick could prove to be the top selection in what is expected to be a very strong draft, especially at the top with players like Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Jared Sullinger, Michael Gilchrest, Jeremy Lamb, Austin Rivers and the like.
The Clippers may not want to give up both Bledsoe and the pick but if faced with the true possibility of landing Paul, can they say no to that (if Paul is open to extending long term)?
Other LA pieces might be able to offer in different combinations include second-year forward Al-Farouq Aminu, Randy Foye and Mo Williams. Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon are thought to be essentially untouchable for the Clippers. The team also intends to retain center DeAndre Jordan.
Perhaps the Clippers would be willing to take back Trevor Ariza to fill their gap at small forward although Ariza may be too streaky a shooter for their taste.
The Philadelphia 76ers Send Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Andres Nocioni to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul
The Sixers have shopped Andre Iguodala but if they, instead, opt to build around Elton Brand, Iguodala and Paul, they’d have a viable package if they’re willing to give up two developing kids like Holiday and Turner.
But would they?
Holiday is a talented player and is highly regarded by the franchise. The notion of dealing Iguodala was to open up room for Turner to succeed (not to mention that Andre has a sizable contract left at $44.2 million over three years).
Nocioni is salary ballast (he has two years but the second isn’t guaranteed).
The Sixers were just officially sold so management/ownership changes may mean some of the team’s initial thoughts regarding Iguodala, Holiday, etc. may no longer be relevant.
If the Hornets get serious about moving Paul, at the very least Demps needs to have some lengthy discussions with the 76ers.
The Golden State Warriors Send Monta Ellis and Charlie Bell to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul
Ellis is one of the top scorers in the league from the guard position. He’s locked in for three more years at $11 million each (although he has an early termination option on the final season).
The Hornets would still need to add talent and depth but they’d still be able to put up points with Monta on the roster.
Bell would be filler.
Of course Paul doesn’t solve the Warriors’ problem of a slight backcourt given that Ellis is taller than Paul. As it is, the diminutive Monta/Stephen Curry duo may continue to be an issue for Golden State.
Ellis is a two-guard so the Hornets would still need to acquire a point guard, unless they are confident that Monta can initiate their offense.
Indiana Pacers Send Darren Collison, Brandon Rush, James Posey and Draft Considerations to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul
The Hornets already chose between Paul and Collison, sending Darren to the Sixers. If Chris is on his way out the door, would they have seller’s remorse?
The Pacers have enough cap room to reunite Paul with David West and still possibly add on a shooting guard like Jason Richardson or Jamal Crawford.
Would Paul be open to an extension in Indiana to play with Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and possibly, West, etc.?
Is that enough for the Hornets? That might depend on exactly what “draft considerations” would work out to be.
The Utah Jazz Send Devin Harris and Paul Millsap to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul
The Jazz may eventually send out either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson, although that may depend first on the development of young players Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Millsap might be the better fit alongside Okafor, although that’s subjective. Devin Harris is no Chris Paul but he’s a solid point guard.
Would Chris sign an extension in Utah?
The Hornets would have plenty more options to explore than the ones listed above.
The Memphis Grizzlies have Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo and Darrell Arthur. The right package might appeal to the Hornets.
The Portland Trail Blazers may have enough to intrigue New Orleans with players like Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and even Brandon Roy (although his contract might be prohibitive).
The Houston Rockets have one of the most underrated point guards in the league in Kyle Lowry. Also, pieces like Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Jonny Flynn, Goran Dragic and rookie Marcus Morris may appeal to the Sixers if the return is lucrative enough.
Paul might have concerns about the state of the Minnesota Timberwolves but they certainly have pieces to offer like Derrick Williams, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, Anthony Randolph and the like.
The Sacramento Kings have plenty of youth in players like Jimmer Fredette, Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson and others. Given the Kings’ recent struggles on the court and off (arena issues) would probably turn off Paul.
The Orlando Magic have players like Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick and Brandon Bass who might appeal to the Hornets as far as returning solid, veteran depth. Paul might not mind teaming up with Howard in Orlando.
The Denver Nuggets seem committed to Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari but they’re both interesting pieces. The Atlanta Hawks have high-level pieces like Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and even the younger Jeff Teague.
The New York Knicks, who clearly have interest in Paul, may not have enough with Chauncey Billups but would a large package of young talent be appeal to the Hornets (Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields and Toney Douglas)?
If the lockout ends in a timely fashion, the Hornets may find they have a multitude of appealing offers to sift through for their superstar point guard.
It will be interesting to see exactly where Paul ends up, either via trade or 2012 free agency . . .