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Fran Blinebury

With a number of new teammates, Chris Paul hopes to point the Hornets back to the playoffs.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Paul's focus is on making Hornets better, not his future

Posted Oct 1 2010 6:22PM

Westwego, La. -- All summer long, David West watched and listened to the furor that surrounded Chris Paul and he couldn't help but chuckle to himself.

After all, he felt the same way.

Who wants to play on a bad team with a losing record? Who wants to be sitting at home watching when the intensity of the playoffs is practically crackling through the HDTV screen? Who wants to simmer on a back burner when the Miami Heat zapped the franchise temperature to a full boil with the microwave additions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh?

"We're all human," said West, the Hornets' power forward. "When you see somebody else get something brand new, it becomes appealing and attractive. When you see other players going to different places and the result is those teams have become significantly better, it makes you wonder: 'Hey, how are we gonna get there?' "

So did Paul really raise his glass in toast at Carmelo Anthony's wedding and suggest that he was tempted to flee New Orleans for the bright lights of New York? And if he did, was it really a mortal sin?

Professional sports are a constantly escalating arms race of money and talent and power and there is really no shame in admitting you'd rather not carry just a butter knife into a gunfight.

Miami lost in the first round and came back with a bazooka. The Hornets didn't even make the playoffs and Paul simply wanted to know that they wouldn't go into this season with only the same slingshot dangling from their back pocket.

It has been two months now since Paul had his sit-down with new general manager Dell Demps and new coach Monty Williams and came out publicly in support of the new regime.

"I'm done now [talking about it]," Paul said. "I think coach said it best. We just want to concentrate on what we can do to help this team get better."

Paul knows that might only be a three-game losing streak at the start of the season away from the subject cropping up again. But for now, he's content and enthusiastically leading the way for the Hornets to embrace Williams' new focus on defense and new philosophy about the game.

The Hornets' camp could have been the bayou version of the tumultuous Denver Melo-drama if he hadn't thrown in with Demps and Williams.

"I don't want to talk about any other team," Demps said. "But one of the reasons that we wanted to get together and have a discussion with Chris early in the summer was to avoid a situation where we had a distraction in camp. We're trying to put in a whole new program, a new way of doing things and we couldn't afford to spend parts of every day dealing with rumors and talk."

Demps has instead been dealing with the roster, bringing in swingman Trevor Ariza, shooter Marco Belinelli, guard Willie Green along with rookie forward Quincy Pondexter, moves that have met with approval inside the locker room. If he can get someone to bite on the expiring $14.3 million contract of 33-year-old Peja Stojakovic, the talent level could take another jump.

"Look, we had made some changes to the team since the year [2008] when we won 56 games," West said. "As a result, I think we got away from doing a lot of the things that won all those games.

"I probably should have said this last year. But I thought when we came to camp last year our perspective, what we were focused on, was entirely unrealistic. I didn't think we were honest about where we were.

"We came in talking about championships. We had banners hanging up all over this place and we had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the previous year. That wasn't being honest and it all went downhill from there pretty fast."

Coach Byron Scott was fired, Paul missed 37 games and needed knee surgery and his frustration eventually seeped out.

"I think Chris just wasn't sure which direction we were going in," West said. "I think that was part of his frustration, part of our frustration. I had a lot of those same questions. Now there have been positive signs and while we still have a lot of questions to answer, we've got real reason to hope."

Yet already entering his sixth season in the NBA, Paul sees his Olympic teammate buddies James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade loading up for a title run in Miami, Kobe Bryant gunning for a three-peat in L.A. and he knows these are the prime years of his career window for winning a championship, too.

"It's always wide open, but every year that goes by it closes just a little bit," he said. "You don't have an unlimited number of years in this NBA. A guy like Peja [13th season] will tell you his window is closing. You only have so many years in your legs and so many years on your body, so you've got to win when you can.

"Me? To tell you the truth, I wouldn't have thought it would take this long. I've always won at any level. So I'm gonna keep competing."

Which is really all Chris Paul ever wanted to do.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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