Where to start with Chris Paul is tough because there are several ways to look at the potential of bringing in one of the best point guards of the last decade to the two time defending champions. Before getting into the ramifications of what it would mean to bring a talent like Paul to the Lakers, I think it’s important to understand the situation that the Hornets are currently in.
Chris Paul, as most star athletes do, wants to play for a contender – and he wants to sooner rather than later. As of right now, the team is built around Paul with David West as his number 2, some young talent (Darren Collison and Marcus Thorton), and a coupe of really bad contracts (Peja Stojakovic and Emeka Okafor). This team is hardly a championship contending basketball team. As reported by Ken Berger, Chris Paul will demand a trade if the Hornets can’t put together a championship caliber basketball team. With the young talent that the Hornets likely won’t want to move and the contracts that will be extremely hard to move if they tried, it doesn’t look like Paul’s wish for a contender in NOLA will be likely. This is a team that reached its peak in 2008 when they finished first in the Southwest Division and got knocked out in the second round by the Spurs in seven games. As Kelly Dwyer put it:
CP3 signed his extension in 2008 soon after the New Orleans Hornets gave the defending champion San Antonio Spurs all they could handle before losing in the second round of the playoffs. With David West screening and Chris Paul rolling, the team seemed poise to break through to the next level by anyone who wasn’t really paying attention. But really, this was the best the Hornets were ever going to get as presently constructed.
Because you have to look at this roster. All of the main components of the team’s rotation played in upwards of games in the high 70s. Including Paul (who missed 18 games the year before that), Peja Stojakovic (who missed 69 games the season before), and the perpetually fragile Tyson Chandler. The rest of the contributors, including Peja? Already sliding or about to hit the first downslide in the descent from their respective primes. Bonzi Wells, Bobby Jackson, Jannero Pargo — all men we’d already seen the absolute best from.
And yet, Paul signed the contract extension.
Because the Hornets were a good team the year before, and players like money. They talk themselves into believing their current situation is better than it is, because the money is better with an incumbent team than it would be with a squad you’d have to jump to, so they talk themselves into thinking that Peja Stojakovic (who had just turned 31) was a proper third wheel on a championship team. That things were going nowhere but up.
So now New Orleans is faced with the impossible task of turning their current roster into a title contending team or they’ll be faced with moving their superstar and re-beginning their rebuilding process, which may make more sense for the franchise in the end. With this current roster, the Hornets will be stuck in a limbo between early playoff exits and mid-round draft picks – not a place any team wants to be in a never-ending quest to get better. This almost ensures that Paul will be leaving in 2012 when his contract ends, putting them in the same rebuilding dilemma that they’d be facing now, except they’ll get no return for him because he’ll be taking his talents elsewhere as one of the most coveted free agents of that particular summer. As TrueHoop’s Henry Abbot writes:
A more pragmatic reality is that Hornets are a middling team who, league sources say, have been calling around looking to dump salaries. There are a lot of different stories you can use to rally your fanbase — good ones include: we’re young and growing, we’re fun to watch, or we’re contenders.
A less compelling story: We’re on the playoff bubble, and likely to stay there. In other words, it’s entirely possible they won’t be exciting in the playoffs nor the draft.
There have traditionally been two ways out of that purgatory: To go cheap, by trading away big contracts and amassing draft picks and cap space, or to go expensive — like the Celtics did — by bringing on expensive players in their prime.
It does not seem likely that the Hornets are about to go the expensive route.
Which means that, as a business, they’ll have a sales job to do. The ownership needs to sell the ticket-buying public, sponsors, even coaches and players, on the idea that they have a real plan in place.
The whole pitch becomes nearly impossible if the eye of the storm — the one superstar in the building — is on record as not wanting to be there.
However, Chris Paul still has two years left on his contract, so a move might not happen at all. Paul doesn’t have much leverage with so much time left on his contract – and he is a superstar, something sports franchises don’t like to move, especially in the primes of their respective careers. And over here at Forum Blue and Gold, we have seen this kind of situation before. In the summer of 2007, the Lakers were placed in a similar position when Kobe Bryant was demanding a contender or a trade out of Los Angeles. That summer, the Lakers essentially did nothing. They didn’t make any major moves to contend and they didn’t move Bryant. From the keys of Kurt Helin:
The Hornets do not have to give in. They should not give in. There are not other Chris Paul’s out there, the Hornets need to try to build around him, not move him.
Certainly Paul and Kobe’s situations are different. Don’t confuse the rudderless ship that is Hornets ownership and management right now with the proven winner Jerry Buss at the top and a patient Mitch Kupchak at the wheel. Kobe did not see the big picture (and nobody saw the Pau Gasol trade coming). Paul doesn’t see the big picture, but nobody does. We’re not even sure who will own the team when the season starts.
Hugh Webber’s rush to fill in the vacuum of power does not instill confidence.
The Hornets can rebuild — this is the last year of Peja Stojakovic’s oversized deal, he is a trade chip. David West is still good. Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton show promise. There are pieces there. Things can improve.
But things will not get better without Paul. Trade him and you start to rebuild from the ground up. New Orleans shouldn’t do that. Not until they have to.
Now, considering all of that, I find it highly unlikely that Paul would become a Laker. There would be too many names involved in a trade for the young stud at the point guard position and could potentially break up some key pieces to the three time Western Conference Champions and two time NBA Champions. It is believed that, if a trade between the Lakers were to happen, both Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, along with maybe one other Laker (maybe Sasha Vujacic or Luke Walton) would be sent to NOLA for Chris Paul and Emeka Okafor’s horrendous contract. In an e-mail exchange with Darius, he had this to say on Paul potentially coming to Los Angeles:
The prospect of getting Paul is one that needs to be looked at from many angles if you’re the Lakers – and that’s not the case with other teams. If you’re Orlando or the Knicks, wanting to acquire Paul is a no brainer. He’d instantly become their best player (or maybe tied with Dwight if sent to the Magic) and he’d be the leader with the ball in his hands on nearly every possession.
In LA that wouldn’t necessarily be the case and the Lakers would be dismantling a championship team to acquire a player that really isn’t needed right now, in the short term. This isn’t to say that Paul couldn’t make a difference – he’s one of the best players in the NBA and if not for injury concerns he’d easily be the best PG in the league (but as it stands now I think he’s still in competition with Deron Williams for that fictional title). So, yes he’d help. But how much would he help? Kobe is a ball dominant guard. In order to get Paul the Lakers would surely have to give up Bynum and potentially Odom in a deal that includes Okafor. And if that’s the deal, the Lakers give up the the thing (besides Kobe) that makes your team special (versatile size) to get a player that who plays a position that may not even be maximized considering the other personnel that remains (Kobe) and the system the Lakers run. In essence, I see the allure and whenever you can acquire the best player in a trade it’s definitely worth looking hard at. But, this is still a team game and getting the pieces that fit together to make the strongest team is what matters most.
The flip side to this argument – and something that I can easily see as well – is that as this Lakers’ team and the league evolves, a team with a dynamic point guard that is flanked by Kobe, Gasol, and Artest is theoretically one of the best in the league still. When you look at Kobe, his game is moving more toward one that is more effective in the post than on the perimeter and Gasol is a player whose game is so versatile that he’s comfortable in nearly every spot on the floor out to the three point line. So, when looked at any potential acquisition of Chris Paul from this angle, the Lakers would have a team whose post game revolves around the exploits of Gasol and Kobe and whose perimeter players would be Chris Paul, Artest, and Kobe (as he slides in between the post and the wing based off the motion of the offense). If Odom is in the mix over Okafor, this formula looks even better as the Lakers would still have the most versatile team in the league with “do it all” size and two of the top 5-6 players in the league when healthy. However if Okafor is in the deal that changes some things…”
Darius presented us with some of the positives and negatives of a deal like this, and as I mentioned this morning and Darius just two paragraphs ago, this really takes away from the size that the Lakers have used to dominate the Western Conference and even the rest of the league. Yes, a Paul-Kobe-Artest-Gasol-Okafor lineup would be a formidable one, but it isn’t as menacing without the likes of Andrew Bynum, who is heads and heels above Okafor as far as offensive capabilities go. A healthy Bynum can go out and put up 20 and 10 on any given night while Okafor will go out and get you only 60 percent of that production. The Lakers are better served keeping their roster in tact and adding one or two more minor pieces to the team.
It was reported earlier that Matt Barnes will consider signing a one-year, 1.7 million dollar deal with the Lakers if the Cavaliers don’t raise their three-year, $3.5 million offer for the wing. Adding guys like Barnes make more sense than breaking up a team that has an opportunity to win its third straight NBA title.