The official elimination of his team had taken place less than 30 minutes earlier, but Chris Paul was already thinking about 2010-11. Asked by a reporter in the locker room to sum up whats been a frustrating season individually and collectively, Paul provided an excellent overview of the present and future of the Hornets.
Injuries obviously had a big deal to do with it, the three-time All-Star said of New Orleans (34-40) missing the playoffs for the first time in three years. But at the same time, weve got to get better as a team anyway. Regardless of the injuries, weve got to get better, (especially on) defense. This will be a big summer for us. Hopefully we can do pretty well in the draft, get someone to come in and help us out a little bit. But most of all, Im looking forward to next season.
Its been a very tough season for us. There are very good signs. Weve got to keep our heads up.
So for the first time during Pauls decorated five-year NBA career, New Orleans will have an extended stretch of games with only pride on the line. The Hornets also missed the postseason during Pauls first two seasons, but they were not eliminated until the final week of the regular season in each case. This will be different. This will be a stretch of eight games over a 2 1/2-week period, with the only playoff-race relevancy being the chance to potentially play a spoiler role in upcoming games against teams like the Lakers, Bobcats and Jazz.
Most of all, our motivation is to give the fans something to cheer about, Paul said. We are still here and relevant. Were going to continue to fight. Thats what kind of team we are... Weve just got to continue to compete, so the fans know that we dont give up, regardless of what the situation is.
Hornets players seem to be in agreement that the most critical area for the team to improve this summer will be on the defensive end. Tonights defeat was another case in point, with Portland piling up 90 points over the first three quarters.
Thats where its going to start for us, Paul said of New Orleans defense. (And) we can get better in these last few games. Defensively, weve got to get better, myself included. Ive been back for these last few games, but were still getting scored on night in and night out. Weve got to get better, and... everyone on our team, individually and collectively, just has to get better.
Anyone who has watched Paul play at all during his NBA career realizes that at the moment he is physically nowhere near his vintage form. In 31 minutes against Portland, he tallied seven points, 10 assists and three steals. Asked whether he feels he is making progress from a physical standpoint, Paul said, I think so.
In terms of how far away he is from being back to normal, he responded, I dont know. I cant gauge it. Im just playing right now.