Posted Jun 23 2010 7:43PM
Coaching is about managing crisis and the new coach of New Orleans is being tested right out of chute. Long before he steps on the floor for a real game, let alone training camp, Monty Williams is part of a recruiting process more important to the Hornets' survival than anything going on in Cleveland or Miami or Toronto.
The franchise, led by Williams and general manager Jeff Bower, must convince Chris Paul that the Big Easy is the place to be. Unlike what's going on with LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, CP3 is under contract.
For three more years. For $49 million.
But this isn't about money for Paul. (It never is when guys have it.) He wants to win, telling ESPN.com that he'd welcome a trade if the Hornets aren't committed to fielding a competitive team. The same Hornets that claimed the Southwest Division in 2008 and won 49 games in 2009.
It's just that these Hornets are hardly the feel-good story of a couple seasons ago. They slipped to 37-45 last season, fired coach Byron Scott and dropped into the Lottery. The ownership situation is a mess, the franchise is strapped for cash and long-term viability in New Orleans is in question.
"The resolve that my partner Gary Chouest and I have will always remain the same -- to continue to build our legacy in New Orleans, and to develop a path and plan to win an NBA championship for New Orleans and all of Louisiana. We are about building and sustaining a winning tradition," team owner George Shinn said in a statement released Wednesday
"Chris Paul is the cornerstone of our franchise and brings us unequaled support on and off the court. We will continue to build around Chris Paul, and we want to see him in a Hornets uniform for the remainder of his career. We have an exciting future, and with the leadership of our new head coach and players like Chris Paul, we know the best is yet to come. We plan to take advantage of any opportunities to improve our team."
Other than Paul, two-time All-Star forward David West and a pair of promising guards, the roster is devoid of many usable trade assets. The contract of Emeka Okafor is an albatross -- four more years for $52 million. Peja Stojakovic and Mo Peterson are entering the last year of their deals, so they appear to be prime candidates to be dealt by February.
But when it comes to the listing the contenders in the ever-deepening Western Conference, New Orleans doesn't make the cut. That's eating at Paul. What appears to be a teetering situation can turn worse in a hurry if the team is financially forced to trade its signature star or if he asks out of New Orleans.
Paul has confessed his love for the city, and the feeling is mutual. His community service work after Hurricane Katrina endeared the Winston-Salem native to people of New Orleans. He's the only true draw for a team that struggles at the gate.
Rumors have surfaced that Orlando and New Jersey are among the teams interested in dealing for the point guard who not long ago was considered the league's best. (Deron Williams holds that honorary title for now.) The list of suitors for Paul promises to be much longer, especially if opposing general managers smell blood in the water.
The Hornets can't afford to get pillaged for Paul. And while a package of talented players, cap relief and draft picks makes sense from a basketball perspective, the hit the Hornets would take their public image might be too much to recover from. The franchise can ill afford to have New Orleans turn a cold shoulder, especially if Shinn eventually sells to a group trying to keep the Hornets in town.
So how do the Hornets, namely Bower and Williams, convince someone already under contract to buy into the program? The first order of business has to be persuading CP3 to practice patience. It's not going to happen overnight, just as the process to mature into a contending team didn't happen overnight when Paul entered the league five years ago.
The Hornets select 11th in a fairly-deep Draft. New Orleans needs to hit on its pick, just as it did last year with Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison. West is still in the fold, and significant cap space appears to be just one season away. Paul, provided he's on board, can be a very effective recruiter for those populating the 2011 free-agency class.
A substantial trade could also be on the horizon. Bower and Williams have acknowledged as much recently.
"Rosters change in the summertime," said Williams, a first-time coach after five seasons as an assistant in Portland. "I haven't sat down and said, 'OK, this is who we have and this is what I have to work with,' because in a week this thing can change drastically or it can remain the same."
Williams is committed to forging the kind of relationship with Paul that Paul enjoyed with Scott. That's smart. If the coach and the coach on the floor form a connection and believe in the franchise's direction, check one worry off the list.
"It's going to be vital to our success," Williams said. "We've got to get on the same page where he knows what I'm going to say or knows what I'm thinking of running. He's even got to know what I'm expecting when we have a practice. That's the kind of relationship we need."
Williams plans to visit Paul at some point summer to hear his concerns and expectations, and explain his plan of attack. Williams plans to do the same with other key players, but Paul, more than anyone else, holds to the key.
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