So Chris Paul Wants Out?

Yeah, he does.  He’ll qualify it with, “if the Hornets aren’t focused on winning”, but he does.  He doesn’t think they are improving the team to a contender status, and you know what?  So far, he’s right.  Last year, if everything had gone right, the team would have tread water, won about 48 games, and been no closer to making playoff runs than they were before.  That’s reality.  The team was hamstrung until the upcoming season by some very bad contracts.

I don’t even blame him for being frustrated.  It’s easy for us to say, “patience, Chris, the team only needs to take a couple seasons and shed some bad contracts, and then they’ll be right back in the thick of things again!”  We have to remember that as an athlete, his window is at best 10-13 years.  If someone told you the job you’re working at is going to be extremely frustrating – and may even suck – for the next eight years, but it might get better afterward, oh, and that there’s a chance, maybe a chance, that the company will acquire another company that could be interesting . . . you’d probably be sending out that resume, right? 

So let’s not act surprised that Paul has shot off a couple missiles this summer to make his displeasure with the Hornets’ direction absolutely clear.  Oh – and despite what I’ve said in the past, we really should be looking at what he’s said as missiles.  Chris Paul is a perfectly media-savvy guy.  He’s not going to use the word trade unless he’s trying to make a point.

So yes, I took my little trip down the River Denial, but I’m ready to move on to acceptance now.  So, let’s start with the premise that Paul wants out.

Can the Hornets Keep Paul?

Yes, of course.  His departure is not something set in stone, even if he flat out demands a trade.  Kobe Bryant wanted out.  Paul Pierce wanted out.  Even Hakeem Olajuwon wanted out at one point.  The Hornets can change his mind, and until the minute they decide it’s time to trade Chris Paul, or the team hasn’t improved and he’s still in New Orleans past the trade deadline two seasons from now, the Hornets still hold all the cards.  Why? Because there is one truth about Chris Paul that hasn’t changed:  He isn’t Baron Davis

Why does that matter?  Because it means everything to a Hornets on-the-fly rebuilding effort.  Last year, Paul wasn’t happy.  He still busted his butt, gave it his all, and was an exceedingly good influence on the bench with Darren Collison.  He doesn’t like to lose, and when he’s playing – or part of a team – he’s going to give it his all.  There won’t be “sore hamstrings” or “back spasms” or “my personal trainer isn’t allowed into the Alario Center so I’m going to whine and loaf around like a petulant child during training camp.” 

That, of course, means that the foundation that Chris Paul creates – the 20-25 wins a season that he is worth – will be there for the Hornets to build on.  In the past, when a superstar quit on his team and stopped playing, that was all she wrote.  There couldn’t be any success from that point on, and the team had no choice but to make a move.  Paul won’t do that.  He won’t stop playing hard, and if you look at the guys I listed above; Bryant, Pierce, and Olajuwon, they are generally made of the same stuff as Paul.  They weren’t going to stop playing hard. 

So the Hornets have a about a 12-month opportunity to build around him and fix their problems.  This season, and next year’s off-season, in essence, to put a team that can compete around Chris Paul for his possible last season in New Orleans.  If they can do that, they’ve got a good chance for Paul to stay put.

What happens if they can’t pull It off?

Disaster.  Facts are facts.  When a Superstar is traded, there is never even close to equivocal exchange.  First, the team obtaining the star can’t drop everything to get him, because that means they would be in the same boat as the team that just traded him away; i.e. a weak team around a grumpy superstar.  That is why when the Nets made a play for Paul, Brook Lopez was never on the table.  The Nets had to keep something to put next to Paul.

In the past, the best superstar trades ended with the team giving the player awa getting back draft picks and a couple of average players.  The draft picks, of course, end up being pretty worthless, since the team will have an improved record from of the superstar, while the average players don’t help much, but do keep the team from being bad enough to get good draft picks on its own.

That’s the problem with trading Paul.  The Hornets won’t get a superstar or even a legitimate star.  They’ll probably get enough “assets” to keep their  team in the 30-45 win zone, which means they won’t have a chance for a superstar from the draft.  That, of course, means they’d then have two options:  struggle as a middling team for years, hoping that several youngish players improve enough that their team becomes relevant – like Atlanta did over the course of 5 years – OR blow it up and hope they strike gold again and get a second Superstar.  Neither of those options are particularly palatable to me.  Are they to you?

That of course means that for those of you who are in the “trade Paul now” crowd,  you’ll have to excuse me if I scoff at trading him and hope the Hornets make good moves and turn it around in the next twelve months. 

I’d rather take 12 months of risk and rumors and hoping for a big trade, than to simply give up and start over a long, painful rebuilding process – no matter what Paul wants right now.

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