Should the Hornets Blow it up and Trade Chris Paul

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Published: December 26, 2009

As the Hornets continue to prove that the team this year is a fairly average crew, more and more writers(like the always entertaining Bill Simmons) – and “fans” – are arguing that blowing up the team and starting over is the best course.  The first thing we need to address – and let’s make no bones about it – is that it’s a stretch to call the Hornets results this year “average”, despite their record.  They are below average in every measure of shooting, rebounding, defensive efficiency and offensive efficiency.  Of the primary categories, only their turnover and assist rates are better than average overall.  So yes, this team needs change.  However, should they blow up the team – and trade Chris Paul?

The premise is that the Hornets should package Chris Paul with all the horrible Hornets contracts on the books and start over from scratch.  So let’s run through that scenario:

Blowing up the Hornets

The bad contracts the Hornets have are Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, and James Posey.  That trio ties up $27.5 million in salary this year, and $29.5 million next year.  So lets posit that the Hornets bundle all three contracts with Chris Paul and trade them right now.  They lose a 24-year old top 3 talent in the league.  They get back a bunch of expiring contracts, a player or two that will never be 60% of Chris Paul, and draft picks.  (Of course, most of the teams that could deal for Paul are at least average already, and will clearly get better, so those picks will be worth a miniscule amount.)

The result: 

The season continues,and the Hornets probably win 10 more games, which is good for 23 wins and about a 40% chance at a top 4 pick in the draft.   No, not the 1st pick in the draft.  A 40% chance at a top 4 pick, and that’s if they go an unwatchable 10-44 the rest of the season.  So, at best, they get a poor chance at a top young player – and the cap space. 

What does the cap space do for them?  If they held on to Okafor, West, Songaila, Wright, Collison and Thornton, they would have about $20 million to attract free agents over the summer.  If they were able to attach West and Okafor to the trade, they could have up to $40 million.  That’s a lot of space . . . but the team just won 20-25 games and has . . . Darren Collison as a free agent draw.  At the same time Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, LA(Clippers), Memphis, Miami, New York, New Jersey, OKC, and Sacramento are also slated to have between $14-40 million in free agent dollars, and will all be directly competing for the top flight free agents.  (Good news.  If you like those odds at landing top flight free agents, then you and Michael Jordan have two things in common!  Unfortunately, those would be a tendency to lose big gambling and the talent to be a lame GM.) 

So, the result of blowing up the Hornets is that they suck next year too.  Hard suckage, and since there is a strong correlation between lots of sucking and low attendance, the financial worries the team has just got worse. (George Shinn, who was making the Paul trade for financial reasons anyways, is suddenly not making jack in game attendance. I have a feeling that low attendance would hurt him a lot more than sucking up a few million in tax payments, but that’s just me.) 

Still, let’s ignore all the luck that would be required, and instead be generous, allowing the Hornets to successfully follow the rarely implemented but possible OKC or Portland rebuilding plans.  Yay.  Now they only have to suck for another year after that . . . before battling for .500. 

In Summary: the Hornets trade Chris Paul and the rest of the team for a smaller team salary, three years of suckage, low attendance, a chance at being a little better than .500 by the 2012-2013 season, and the stigma of having traded the best point guard in a decade for cap space.

I’m sorry if I’m not excited by that prospect.

If I were Jeff Bower

I’d be tickled pink . . . well . . . maybe not about the hair situation.

Anyways, here’s my preferred course of action this season if I was Jeff Bower:

  1. Suck up this season and sit on the bad contracts.
  2. Move David West and his palatable contract for a younger, less proven big man closer to Chris Paul’s age – and a usuable shooting guard.  (Like, say, Randolph + Azubuike in Golden State)  I’m willing to bet David West leaving would not turn Chris Paul against the team – particularly since West should get something decent in return.
  3. Try to guage Posey’s trade value.(I’m not convinced it’s that bad.)  Move him for anything usable and fill his minutes with Songaila and Julian Wright.

Next year, the Peja Stojakovic, Darius Songaila and Morris Peterson contracts become expiring, giving the Hornets some big salaries for trade chips – enough to cover the difference between the luxury tax and their salary level – and still have about $14 million in salary left over to try and turn into a usable pieces.  I also feel it’s likely that usable pieces will exist:  At some point in the free agent bonanza this summer that I talked about above, several of those teams will lose out on the big name talents and overpay second bananas.(Joe Johnson, anyone?)  At least one of those teams will discover their second banana isn’t the first banana they had hoped for, and will cut bait and make that player available.  For them, he’s not one to carry the team.  For the Hornets, with Paul still on board, he’s a valid second banana.

Trading a Superstar

Even if my preferred course is a bit too rosy for your taste, there is one common NBA maxim that has to be considered:  You never get equal value for trading a star. (I’d add with good efficiencies.  Call it the Allen Iverson rule.)  Not Shaq from the Lakers, not Vince from Toronto or New Jersey.  Not Chauncey Billups.  Not Kevin Garnett.  The list continues as far back as Wilt Chamberlain.  It just doesn’t happen.  You won’t be able to find me an example of it happening.  It won’t magically happen for the Hornets.

Hornets(13-14) @ Bulls(10-17)

The Hornets play the Chicago Bulls today – a team that is in even more of a freefall than the Hornets are.  The team is horribly limited offensively, ranking 2nd to last in the league.  Their coach is under fire, they just gave up the worst comeback in league history since 1996, and their star player, Derrick Rose, continues to be a less efficient scorer than Devin Brown.  Yes, you read that right.

Of course, the Hornets have three things going against them:

  • They have 2 wins on the road. 
  • The Bulls are perimeter oriented, and the Hornets are terrible at defending the perimeter.
  • The Hornets are one game from reaching .500, and that hurdle has kept tripping them up all season.

Enjoy the game, and I hope you had a Happy Holiday.  I did.  I still feel full, and I’m writing this at midnight.  Gluttony and Sloth were my two primary presents this week.  Let me know if you got anything cool for Christmas.

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