For Hornets to move forward, Chris Paul needs to go
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It was no surprise to read the Sacramento Bee rumor—and it seems just that—of New Orleans perhaps trying to dump Emeka Okafor for the expiring contract of Kenny Thomas. It seems farfetched given the equally poor financial situation and developing young (cheap) talent of the new arena-craving Kings, whom the Bulls face Tuesday to open their two-week road trip.
The Kings are one of the season's early surprises with a sprightly, youthful group with which they can build. Given their improved play since Kevin Martin was hurt, I wouldn't be surprised if they'd love to move Martin. One dimensional shooters like that generally are paid out of proportion to their contribution, and you suspect the Bucks, likewise, would like to find a new home for Michael Redd. You don't want guys like that coming back to steal shots from your youngsters, like top rookie of the year candidates for now in the Kings' Tyreke Evans and the Bucks' Brandon Jennings.
So I strongly doubt the Kings want any part of Okafor's strangling, long-term deal.
But what it demonstrates, beyond any denials to the contrary, is that the Hornets are prepared to begin breaking up their team. And they should.
The main move should be to trade Chris Paul.
Look, it's clear this season for New Orleans is lost with last week's firing of coach Byron Scott and now Paul's serious ankle injury, which could keep him out weeks. Deron Williams had something similar last season and struggled for months. The notion is you don't trade a star of that level, but Paul will never have as much value as he has now.
One reason you rarely see stars traded is their contracts. It was evident when the Suns took offers on Amar'e Stoudemire last season. Teams wondered how much they could give for a player who could leave after a year with an opt out. Paul is under contract at least through the 2011-12 season. The closer he gets to that, the less value he will have.
And this has been a Hornets franchise in deep decline. They had a terrific run in 2008, but fell back badly last season and now even more before Paul was hurt. I know Paul denied even knowing about Scott's firing. But those scouts who have watched the Hornets regularly this season have seen open dissatisfaction from Paul. No surprise. Stars don't do well with deteriorating situations. I hardly blame them. With deals for Peja Stojakovic, James Posey and Morris Peterson through at least next season, the Hornets are stuck for probably two years. Paul isn't about to sit still for that.
And remember who this owner is.
George Shinn, with young stars and the expansion story of the league with annual attendance records in Charlotte, traded Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson, both of whom went on to play key roles for Finals and conference finals teams.
The Hornets now also are in one of the toughest markets given the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, and they currently are into the luxury tax for this season and next. They badly need to dump contracts, and Okafor's with four years left after this one at an average of more than $13 million a season will be tough for anyone to take. Credit Michael Jordan for dumping that deal. With the coming free agents, who wants a nice role player for similar money?
The Hornets' best hope is to parlay Paul, and probably David West, into a future while both are at the top of their value.
The obvious trading partner is the Golden State Warriors, who have a terrific fan base and dysfunctional situation.
With a team of perimeter shooters, Paul would be the classic fit. The only time this Warriors group had success was with a point guard, Baron Davis. And by now it seems coach Don Nelson has alienated half the roster, a roster much better than its record.
Perhaps Paul and someone like Julian Wright, who'd fallen out of favor, for Monta Ellis and LSU's Anthony Randolph to give the Hornets two talented youngsters while Golden State gets its star to run its offense. Golden State also adds a draft pick. How good would shooters like Anthony Morrow and Stephen Curry be playing off Paul? Such a deal would also save the Hornets more than $2 million toward their vital goal of getting under the luxury tax this season since you can match salaries within 25 percent. It might send the Warriors into the luxury tax, but for a player like Paul given their situation you'd have to strongly consider that.
A Hornets restructuring may be more than a year way. Paul's not sitting around for that, and then he begins to get close to just walking away on you. And the Hornets badly need some salary relief this season. And then need young talent. You can say they give up this season, get a lottery pick, try to dump a deal (good luck with that) and hang onto Paul. I don't see Paul that patient. And I don't see enough talent anymore there to really make a run even with a lottery pick.
The other part of the thinking to get under the tax is to trade David West and perhaps someone like Darius Songaila to the Bulls for Tyrus Thomas, Jerome James and a protected draft pick. It might not be feasible given the Bulls proximity to the luxury tax line. It also would likely knock the Bulls out of the 2010 summer free agency chase without the James expiring deal.
But if you were a team like the Bulls you might have to ask yourself, Why wait? Maybe get an All-Star level power forward now with a reasonable contracts going forward and add a piece instead of a star next summer. But then what if Dwyane Wade or LeBron James do want to come? And you spent your money and cap space on getting David West? Have you then wasted your chance for greatness? But what if you pass on a deal like that and then no major free agent wants to come? Then a solid power forward like West looks pretty good. No, folks, these are decisions only best second guessed in the media.
For the Hornets, getting LSU's Thomas would give them a look at another young athlete and with the chance to let him go and save money after the season. Plus, the combination of the salaries with the Golden State deal would put the Hornets under the luxury tax for this season, perhaps the team's main priority. And why shouldn't it be. Who wants to pay a luxury tax penalty—other than the Knicks—with a non playoff team? You shouldn't.
Another, perhaps better, option for the Hornets is to expand the deal with the Warriors and build a team from dealing Paul and Okafor. Nelson has been part of some of the biggest deals in NBA history, from the Chris Webber draft deal to the massive nine-player Shawn Bradley deal, then the biggest ever.
Again, this would cost the Warriors the luxury tax, but it would save West for the Hornets and get them under the luxury tax. It could be something like Paul, Okafor and Peja Stojakovic (the Hornets' toxic asset) for Ellis, Andres Biedrins, Randolph, Stephen Jackson (the Warriors' toxic asset) and a draft pick. Each gets rid of a piece it badly doesn't want. The Warriors get a star and a banger and the Hornets get the outline of a new young team.
Rarely are there big trades in the NBA before 20 games when free agents from the summer can be dealt and teams get a feel for what they have. And both those teams have injured players for a few more weeks. So nothing is likely to occur for awhile. But it seems there could be something there.
Jennings breaks out with 55
-- The talk of the NBA Sunday was Bucks' rookie Brandon Jennings' remarkable 55-point game, with a Wilt-like 45 points in the second half, in Saturday's win over Golden State. I know scoring against the Warriors gets an asterisk, but this was truly extraordinary. The larger question is whether we're looking at Tiny Archibald here. Jennings is virtually the same size as the Hall of Fame guard who remains the only player ever to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season. They are virtually the same size, Jennings listed at 6-1 and 169 and Archibald at 6-1 and 160. Both are lefty and can make shots as Jennings was 17 of 21 and six of seven on threes in the second half alone. Other than that one season when Archibald averaged 34 points and 11.4 assists for the Kansas City Kings, Achibald wasn't a huge high assist player and he was never a great three-point shooter. He even ended his career in 1983-84 in Milwaukee. Jennings clearly is establishing himself as a player worth paying to watch, and coach Scott Skiles, who is raving to friends about Jennings as coachable, tough and smart, is giving him an unusual free hand to make plays and run the team. Though my favorite stat about Jennings' extraordinary Saturday was that Jennings scored more points in that game than Skiles scored in his first season in the NBA with the Bucks in 1986-87. Sorry, Scott. I couldn't resist.
NBA news and notes
-- So why does Memphis hate Mike Conley so much? First Allen Iverson and now Jamaal Tinsley? ... The Knicks, hoping, despite having little chance, to trade Eddy Curry are expected to play him this week and already are selling. Joked coach Mike D'Antoni: "He looks good. I might want to date him." Yes, it's even worse then you can imagine with the Knicks. It didn't take long for them also to give up on Darko Milicic, who has played 23 minutes combined in the last six games and scored a total of four points. ... Now we'll see in Philadelphia. Marreese Speights is out with a torn ligament. Despite being hurt early in the fourth quarter against the Bulls Saturday, coach Eddie Jordan never came back with Elton Brand. If Brand doesn't play regularly now, figure this could get ugly. ... The Cavs finally sat troubled Delonte West after he missed another team flight. But you have to wonder where was the players' association when the Cavs seemed to be rushing him back after a slow start. Cavs coach Mike Brown also apparently conceded playing Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas together was, well, not working. Brown said that experiment is over for the most part. Too bad as it had been killing the Cavs. ... You have to look at Scott Skiles as the early season leader for Coach of the Year with the Bucks, generally picked in the league's bottom five by everyone, leading the league in rebounding and defensive field goal percentage before the Golden State shootout Saturday. ... My personal favorite moment from the Pacers win over the Celtics Saturday was one of my boyhood favorites, former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine-Oisk in our neighborhood--playing the national anthem on a harmonica. Now, that's entertainment.
Respect for No. 23
-- The good news for the Bulls last week was LeBron James' homage to Michael Jordan by declaring all teams should retire Jordan's number, a request generally welcomed by everyone in the NBA under 30 and rejected by everyone older. To some it suggested James would be honored to follow in Jordan's footsteps in Chicago. Then there were these comments by Dwyane Wade to the Ft. Lauderdale Sentinel about he and James as friends: "We get together every offseason. Most of the time, he winds up coming to Chicago because Chicago is a nice city in the offseason." Just the offseason? Doesn't sound promising….An old issue is developing again in Orlando as point guards have been breaking down the team. It didn't happen quite as much last season after Jameer Nelson was hurt…..Gilbert Arenas seems healthy, at least physically, but the Wizards continue to lose. Arenas made much this season of a media boycott because he said he needed to concentrate on playing and not being a media figure. It was another act in his continuing bad play, and it's still the Wizards suffering. Arenas decided he needed to be an all around player and shoots only in certain quarters, often passing up easy shots to the point teammates are begging him to shoot. His erratic behavior and career long indifference to game plans complicates anything the Wizards try to do. It seems to have most affected Caron Butler this season as he's shooting under 40 percent and averaging less than an assist per game. So the Wizards probably didn't need this recent Arenas comment to the Washington Post: "We need a whole starting five to pass the ball. Just can't have two people getting assists on this team." Arenas also leads the league in turnovers. Arenas now says he's going to be the Hibachi shooter again as Antawn Jamison is due to return from injury this week. And you thought the health care debate was complicated.
-- Tracy McGrady messaged Yahoo Sports he was returning to play this week, which was disputed by the Rockets who said the team had to determine when he was 100 percent. McGrady then backed off and said Nov. 18 was a mere target date and he remains on schedule. … Tough night for BG-7 in Detroit Sunday shooting one of 16, including a missed three in an attempt to tie with a second left and trailing the Mavericks by three. Though the best thing about Ben is by now he has no idea what he shot. … It's tough to judge the Jazz now with Deron Williams out with a family problem and backcourt injuries that have rookie Eric Maynor and Wesley Matthews playing. But coach Jerry Sloan has often been benching Carlos Boozer early in games to apparently make a point about defensive play. Boozer has been getting his numbers with at least 23 in four of their last six games, though Williams did point to how impressive the Celtics were in spreading around the scoring and no one looking to be a hero.
Bulls visit old friend in Noce
-- The Bulls open their road trip in Sacramento Tuesday against a surprising Kings team with Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson and Omri Casspi from Israel. The Kings are playing Houston-like in pushing the ball and scrambling the game with activity. And they're getting a nice assist from former Bull Andres Nocioni, who had a reluctant arrival last winter in the John Salmons/Brad Miller deal, but who now is involved and who scored in double figures in all six games in November while frustrating opponents as the new Bruce Bowen. Friends say Nocioni was devastated by the DUI arrest in Sacramento and the potential damage to his reputation, and some suggest, though without any proof, he may have been victim of local law enforcement which some around the NBA believe targets athletes. I'm no chaperone or pay that much attention to the players' off the court activities. But when I've been around the Bulls on the road I've mostly seen Nocioni with the trainers and staff who have the least money to be hanging out at clubs.
Re-visiting Kobe and Chicago... not
-- The Bulls face the Lakers Thursday on national TNT and the Los Angeles Times last week had an interesting note about Kobe Bryant still not signing a contract extension. He can sign an extension through 2013-14 to pay about $90 million. He is under contract through next season, but can opt out next summer. He's never mentioned among the big free agents for next summer because everyone expects him to stay with the Lakers after winning a championship. No one is talking about it, but, hey, maybe Kobe still wants to come to Chicago. Nah. I can't even make up a scenario for that one. Still, he hasn't reupped. ... Interesting to see Stephen Curry benched by the Warriors until the last minutes of a blowout win in New York. Had the Warriors been willing to deal the rights to Curry, they likely could have made the deal with Phoenix for Amar'e Stoudemire last summer. It was the usual dysfunctional week for the Warriors with Nelson in a dispute with Monta Ellis, benching Curry and Anthony Randolph and having Stephen Jackson's agent blast Nelson as one of the worst people in pro sports and routine betrayer of everyone's trust. I think Nellie smiled and ordered a stock trade.
The Answer keeps it classy
-- Classic moment when the Thunder beat the Clippers last week as Chris Kaman, who has been terrific this season, endured his worst shooting game of the season with rookie Serge Ibaka harassing Kaman on defense. At one point on a dead ball, Kaman walked around Ibaka to check the name on his back to see just who that guy was. ... Great scene reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal as with Allen Iverson still there coach Lionel Hollins called a play for Iverson with a big man screen and Iverson started yelling at the bench. "I don't need no (expletive) pick to get my shot off!" That certainly should help other teams retain their interest in Iverson. It reminds me of the famous story Larry Brown tells. Brown says he coached Iverson some 600 games in Philadelphia and substituted him twice a game. "And," says Brown, "he (cursed) me 1,200 times."