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New Jersey Nets could look to pursue Chris Paul with No. 3 pick

Sam Smith at Bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Chris Paul

The talk around the NBA is the New Jersey Nets intend to make a major run at Chris Paul with the No. 3 draft pick, who would most likely be Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors, a freshman power forward talked about as a future star.

There’s going to be a lot of trade talk around this year’s NBA draft, though it most likely will begin at No. 3. It’s almost certain the Wizards take John Wall with the first overall selection. While there have been rumors of trading Elton Brand and the No. 2 pick, the 76ers are most likely to take Evan Turner since new coach Doug Collins likes the big guard to go with point guard Jrue Holiday.

With the Nets seeking to make a big splash with new ownership, that cannonball I’ve been hearing about lately is Chris Paul.

The New Orleans Hornets are set to announce Monty Williams as their new coach this week after new Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau passed on the job. The Hornets, who are likely to be sold, have insisted they will keep Paul, who supposedly has expressed a preference for Williams.

But the fact remains Paul can become a free agent after two more seasons, so his value never will be higher. And if you have a rookie coach and the chance to start fresh, especially since it’s difficult to believe the Hornets can compete now in the loaded Western Conference, doesn’t it make sense to get a great young core in place? Maybe not to the Hornets.

Still, the talk is the Nets intend to make a major run at Paul with the No. 3 draft pick, who would most likely be Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors, a freshman power forward talked about as a future star.

The Nets pretty much know they have no shot at LeBron James playing in Newark at least the next two years. So how much excitement do you get from Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer or David Lee, the trio most likely considered Nets possibilities.

The informed speculation is the Nets will make a bold run at Paul.

The thinking goes like this: You get Paul and can play Devin Harris at shooting guard. Harris isn’t a great three-point shooter, though he has had decent seasons at 34 percent. But he is more a scoring guard than point guard. Plus, the way the game is played these days, it is useful to have a shooting guard who can handle the ball and make plays as opposed to just spotting up. The other, perhaps more likely, possibility is a sign-and-trade with the Hawks of Harris for Joe Johnson.

Harris would be a much cheaper alternative to Johnson and could play with Jamal Crawford, who really is better at getting his own shot than Johnson, though less a defender.

So how do they get Paul? The Nets mostly absorb the salary in their cap space, along with some of Johnson’s salary from the sign-and-trade if that is included. The Hornets get the No. 3 pick and likely a potential future star in Favors. The Nets have a few other pieces the Hornets might want, perhaps Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee or the talented, if erratic, Terrence Williams.

It’s a two pronged benefit for the Hornets.

They have a highly regarded potential young backcourt in Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. They add to that Favors and with a rookie coach it’s a heck of a core to build with. So what of David West?

He’s a highly regarded talent, so the Hornets would be in position to make another deal. One of the keys, of course, is finances. The new potential owner has been said to be looking for minority financing, which suggests the franchise still is facing operating losses. Plus, they’re in luxury tax territory already. It’s bad business to be there without a chance to seriously compete, which would be difficult to project now with the Hornets. Plus with still another natural disaster hitting the Gulf and the economy, there could be further financial woes for the small market Hornets.

The fact is they’ve had their run and it’s time for change. Jeff Bower is regarded as one of the league’s top general managers. With a chance to get pieces and move West, who only has one year left on his deal with an opt out he’d likely exercise as his contract declines, the Hornets could get in position to be making another run and build together with a promising young group.

West might make sense for Chicago

-- So what about the Bulls going for former All-Star scoring power forward West under that scenario? If West were to become available, the Bulls could offer Kirk Hinrich, who makes about the same and would be a solid veteran guard to work with the two kids. Plus, the Bulls could throw in their No. 1 draft pick, which would further boost the Hornets’ asset base of young talent. That would be a pretty good front court of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and West. Then the Bulls could make their run at LeBron James, and if that were to fail, take a shot at Joe Johnson for shooting guard. A top six of Rose, Johnson, Deng, West, Noah and Gibson would be a big step up.

Yes, I know everyone would rather have James and Chris Bosh. But, again, the Bulls are not believed to be the No. 1 priority of either of those players. The Cavs clearly are planning major, perhaps LeBron-inspired, moves to retain James. And you can believe there is no way they are giving him a sign-and-trade to go to an Eastern team. You hear plenty of LeBron rumors, and one I’ve heard lately, though vague, is that “money matters.” Plus, Bosh still is said to be targeted for Miami and Dwyane Wade, though both James and Bosh are believed to have Chicago high on their lists.

But again the big issue: If you gamble and lose, you end up with maybe David Lee. At the very least, if the Bulls could pull a deal for West at the draft, it would seem to make them more attractive to a free agent.

Still, it’s an awfully big if and just one of many, many, many, many—am I out of manys yet?—scenarios that are going to develop first with the draft. No, we don’t get to skip to July 1 right away, no matter how much attention James will be demanding by then. The draft period is going to be just as crucial as teams are going to be in position to enhance their recruiting then.

There’s this belief that the recruiting is all these dog and pony shows come the first week of July. Forget that. If you land an All-Star level player or significantly more salary cap room at the draft you are going to make yourself more attractive and from what I’ve heard that is what the main free agents are going to be looking for. Which is why this talk now about where guys are leaning is meaningless. The landscape could change dramatically at draft time and then we’ll know better who are the top contenders and best locations.

NBA news and notes

-- The one coaching job you never hear much about is the Clippers, who have wooed Larry Brown and seem to be willing to settle for allowing a free agent to choose a coach. Actually, one of many names I’ve heard they’ve contacted is former Bull and longtime Piston Lindsey Hunter. … I was talking to one-time Bull Chet Walker the other day. He remains close with former Bulls teammate Cliff Ray, now the bigman coach of the Celtics, and says Cliff would be a great addition to the new Bulls staff since Cliff worked with Tim Thibodeau. … OK, let me be the first. I say he opens his first press conference and announces, “Call me Mr. Tibbs!.” That’s right, he’s not just an assistant anymore. … By the way, this talk of why Boston wasn’t interested. Not true. Management had told Thibodeau they’d love to have him for head coach if Doc Rivers were to leave. Though it seems unlikely Rivers will leave after his best coaching job taking this Celtics team to the Finals. And there’s that little matter of $5 million next season. Even the Celtics understood it was unfair to ask Thibodeau to wait again without any promises, and Rivers could always seek an extension with him moving into the elite of NBA coaches.

-- Derrick Rose is working out in Los Angeles with fellow USA Basketball hopefuls like Russell Westbrook and Brook Lopez in hopes of grabbing a spot on the USA team that will play in the World Championships in Turkey. Most of the top players and potential free agents, like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, are not expected to participate, thus making Rose one of the favorites to make the team. … Not exactly, but Cavs owner Dan Gilbert seemed to endorse the Bulls hiring of Tom Thibodeau. Gilbert told Cleveland reporters he wants a coach like Mike Brown. “I want a defensive coach,” he said. “You don’t get to the (NBA) Finals without a defensively oriented coach.” I’ve continued to hear around the NBA not to eliminate the John Calipari to the Cavs talk despite Calipari’s denials as another way to get James to resign. The firing of Danny Ferry leaves open the potential scenario for someone like Calipari or Larry Brown who wants to have a strong hand in personnel. New GM Chris Grant is a respected basketball guy, but you could see a situation like Rod Higgins with Michael Jordan. If you’ll recall, perhaps the main reason Brown was fired by the Pistons after going to the Finals in 2005 was because Brown was talking with Gilbert about taking over the Cavs before the playoffs ended. Brown has hesitated on his what most believed was obvious interest in the 76ers and Clippers. Could it be to take over the Cavs as coach with a personnel guy like Brown had in Philadelphia with Billy King. Brown certainly would be an attractive coach to LeBron James and would be the kind of coach with the Cavs personnel who could take them an extra step. So far I’ve heard mostly just speculation about this. Meanwhile, in my list of coaching candidates when Vinny Del Negro was fired I quoted some NBA executives saying the one college coach they could see making a relatively smooth transition to the NBA and defensive oriented would be Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. Owner Gilbert is a Michigan State grad and longtime advocate for Izzo. There have been reports over the last week Izzo is a top Cavs candidate. If the Cavs do hire Izzo, you figure the Bulls hire of Tom Thibodeau is a much more respected hire for free agents. … Don’t be surprised if Danny Ferry ends up back with the Spurs in a personnel role.

-- It’s somewhat old news, but in 2004 when Kobe Bryant was in the midst of various crises he engaged in a bitter feud with Ray Allen, who had called Kobe selfish and predicted, it turned out accurately, Kobe would eventually turn on the Lakers and demand better players. Kobe answered with a supposed threat to “bust you” in an exhibition game Allen ended up sitting out. Kobe then snapped at reporters with expletives not to mention Allen’s name with his. They mostly went past it in the 2008 Finals, but you know it burned Kobe to see Allen set a Finals record for threes Sunday and put up a huge game against Kobe and Derrick Fisher. … Despite getting back to 1-1, it’s going to be tough for the Celtics with Kevin Garnett clearly declining as the playoffs go on. I’ve never seen Garnett so slow to react and unable to get off the floor even after playing so little because of foul trouble. Garnett had the lowest plus/minus for how the team did when players were on the floor among the top six Celtics. … Poor Shelden Williams with one of the worst ever sequences blowing most of that Celtics second quarter lead. It’s why despite fans and media often screaming for changes when someone is going bad why it’s difficult to put in someone who hasn’t played. … One credit to Thibodeau’s defense watching the Celtics shows how much they can do with small centers, like Glen Davis. With a system like Thibodeau plays you can see the Bulls being able to use at center at times someone like Taj Gibson or a smaller four they might get in free agency. … The ABC-TV microphones coming into a timeout picked up from Nate Robinson an ugly characterization players sometimes use to refer to one another and you’d more often hear used teasingly on cable TV, like the Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm show involving character Krazee-Eyez Killa. And Nate actually played well, better than Stephon Marbury ever did for the Celts, at least.

-- Although Magic GM Otis Smith said he expects to retain Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, J.J. Redick and Brandon Bass, that seems unlikely. Matt Barnes opted out and though something of a mistake player, he is tough and can make a three. I do expect them to move Bass, whose representatives have effectively asked for a change. The Magic whiffed on a chance to get Kirk Hinrich last trading deadline and Bass and maybe Barnes on a sign-and-trade could be an intriguing exchange, though Thibodeau is said to be a big fan of Hinrich’s defensive play. … Carlos Boozer began his annual free agent tour as he declared to the Ft. Lauderdale Sun his love for Miami. Boozer said he’ll always live in South Florida, where he has a home, said he’s “friends for life” with the owner’s son, Nick Arison, said he’s “really close” with Dwyane Wade and the two have consoled one another on marriage issues. Boozer said another of his good friends is Eric Spoelstra and Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, who now work for the Heat, talk at his basketball camps. It was unclear if Boozer said “pretty please” to the Heat or “pretty, pretty, pretty please.” Of course, if the Bulls were to make an offer we all know how much he loves Chicago. … The first trade rumor of the draft season was the most recent version of the Warriors Anthony Randolph to Minnesota. Not surprising as those two teams, with the No. 4 and No. 6 draft picks, and under pressure coming off underachieving seasons, are expected to be the two major movers of the draft period. Minnesota has made obvious they’ll deal Kevin Love or Al Jefferson or both and the Warriors likely will deal Monta Ellis, Randolph and perhaps Brandon Wright while Anthony Morrow is an in demand restricted free agent whom they’ll likely match on. Plus, they reportedly want to move Andris Biedrins and want to get into the free agency sign-and-trade possibilities for Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire with some appealing pieces that include their draft pick.

Saying goodbye to the game’s perfect coach

-- I didn’t really know Coach John Wooden, who died last week at age 99. I’d spoken with him a few times about basketball and anyone who ever has met him casually would tell you he was, unlike most everyone else in sports, as you saw him, a humble Hoosier who made everyone feel comfortable and important. But, to me, he’s always been the ultimate in coaching for two main reasons. One is that famous story you’d hear about the time in a game one of his players handling the ball slowed and looked to the sideline. Wooden didn’t shout a single instruction. He felt he’d failed if you were in a game and didn’t know what to do. He was the perfect coach because he was the best teacher. He understood that you taught in practice and when the game came it was time for the players. So he didn’t sit or stand there and shout and preen and run up and down the sideline in the “hey look at me, I’m coaching and working my butt off,” coaches of today. It’s their game, like their life. You prepare them for it. Then you let them experience it. That’s teaching. Wooden was a teacher first and as great teachers do they prepare you for what you have to face. And if they’ve done their job, you can endure and succeed. So if you’re stand up yelling instructions all the time you really haven’t done your job. It also is one of the strengths of Phil Jackson, though, sorry, he’s no John Wooden. No one is. That’s reason No. 2. There probably never has been a coach who has engendered such loyalty and regard. I know Bill Walton and have been to his home several times. It is filled with, in addition to Grateful Dead paraphernalia which owes little to Wooden, sayings and messages from Wooden. Wooden’s famous pyramid of success was displayed prominently on the refrigerator when I was there, and years ago when I was at Bill’s home he’d always be discussing it with his kids. He’d have Wooden sayings packed with their school lunch. Teammates and old friends like Greg Lee would stop by and the talk would be of Wooden. Bill would call him almost daily, as would other former players. It is remarkable to engender that much love and affections for decades from former players. To me, John Wooden was the consummate coach, a teacher who prepared men for life and their work and a trustworthy father figure who inspired confidence and loyalty. If there is a symbol for coaching, it should be John Wooden, less for his basketball records than for what he represented, how he taught the game and his young men.