Trade made with an eye toward 2013

Published: December 15, 2011

After game one of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Hornets fans were convinced that anything was possible as long as CP3 was on our side. Against a team of giants and an all-time NBA great with five rings, Chris Paul masterfully picked his spots and gave New Orleans fans hope in a series that was predicted by most to be a sweep. He wasn’t a part of a ‘Big Three’ (heck, he didn’t even have a second banana) but on that afternoon it didn’t even matter. He went into his new home, the Staples Center, and showed the Western Conference favorites that he could take down their team of stars with a team of castoffs and also-rans.

Now, the team must move on after Wednesday’s mega trade, and we all have to come to terms that the guy who could single handedly keep us in any game is gone. Instead, the team will have to be rebuilt, hopefully with more balance and cohesiveness. Chris Paul was so good that he could make up for glaring weaknesses up and down the roster, but Chris Paul isn’t here anymore, and Eric Gordon should not be forced to place the weight of this franchise on his shoulders the way Paul had to these past few years.

Instead, the Hornets will build the right way. They have two wonderful pieces to start with in the newly acquired Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu. They are also likely to have multiple lottery picks this year, and perhaps another in 2013, as they try to develop some of the younger talent on this roster. While the present is always important, and can not be taken for granted, the future is where the promise lies for this team, and that promise could turn into something really special starting in 2013.

If the Hornets are patient over the course of these next two years, it is within reason to see them walk into the summer of 2013 with Gordon, Aminu, three lottery picks on rookie contracts, four or five additional young assets, and over twenty five million dollars in cap space to go after a free agency class that could include Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Russell Westbrook, and some guy named Chris Paul.

Okay, so CP3 might be a stretch, but the point is that the Hornets could easily find themselves in a position where they have one of the best young rosters in the game AND the ability to add a star or two in a free agent class that will be super deep. Combine that with the fact that 2013 will be the first season that the NBA will be going to their more punitive luxury tax formula, and cap space will be twice as valuable as it is currently.

To get there, though, the Hornets will have to make some tough decisions along the way. They will have to resist the urge to win now at all costs. Undoubtedly, teams will be calling over these next two years with packages that could improve the roster instantly at a cost of financial flexibility. The class of 2012 will offer some short term fixes at positions of need as well. Steve Nash, Andre Miller, and Chauncey Billups would all be drastic upgrades at the point guard position and it is going to be hard to resist putting someone like that next to Eric Gordon. Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett will be available at drastically reduced prices in a summer where the Hornets will have some money to spend, but Demps and Monty will have to resist adding the type of players that normally every coach and GM would kill to have.

Demps will likely have to make tough decisions with guys on the current roster as well. In order to dive into the 2013 free agency class, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza will have to be taken off the books- either via trade or through the leagues amnesty and/or stretch provisions. Okafor will be easier to move than Ariza, and perhaps a phone call to Toronto for their overpaid point guard Jose Calderon and a future pick would be a move that would benefit both teams. The Raptors get the defensive minded center that they covet and the Hornets get a stop gap point guard who just happens to come off the books before the summer of 2013.

If the Hornets can not move Ariza, they can always use their amnesty on him prior to the opening of free agency in 2013. The move would wipe his 7.7 million dollar salary off the books, giving the Hornets between 25 and 30 million dollars to spend, assuming they haven’t taken on any additional long term contracts and also assuming that they will give Eric Gordon a max deal of around 5 years/74 million.

From there, the sky is the limit as far as what kind of roster the Hornets can build. This should come at a time when the Heat seriously have to think about trading one of the ‘Big 3’ due to the tax and as the Thunder have to decide which two to keep out of Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka. The Grizz should be on the way down, with Randolph, Gasol, and Gay eating up their entire cap, and the Mavs, Lakers, and Spurs could be in the beginning stages of a rebuild.

This is all best case scenario, I know, and it is entirely likely that the 2012 draft is a bust and Eric Gordon turns down a max contract to stay. Those things are possible, but not at all probable, and the odds say that if the Hornets stick to the plan of targeting the 2013 free agent class while simultaneously developing the young players on the roster, the future could be extremely bright. But will Demps and Monty have the patience and fortitude to build that way with no long term security? Will the new owner be able to resist from making a big splash?  Will fans buy season tickets again next year knowing that the playoffs is not likely?

There is no way to answer all of these questions right now, but if we can all be patient and let things play out over the next two years, we can from supporting a transcendent player to rooting on a transcendent TEAM.



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