Thursday, July 22

Chris Paul: The Omitted Option

Ken Berger lit the NBA on fire last night. Just after the dust had started to settle from the fallout following The Decision, another MVP-caliber player in his prime appears to be on the move. Somehow, with The King picking his next destination, people have forgotten that Chris Paul is still under contract for two seasons. He'll be able to tell teams he's not interested in re-signing to possibly discourage them from entering the sweepstakes, but it will be up to the Hornets where Chris Paul plays his next game. One team that no one is talking about (seriously, no one) will make a very hard run at the Hornets to get CP3's services and have as good a chance as any at landing him for a variety of reasons.

Leading up to the LeBron sweepstakes three teams "led" at various points. New York, Chicago and Cleveland all spent time atop the leaderboard and all went home empty handed. Meanwhile, quietly down in Miami Pat Riley was gutting his roster, not exactly a great move if you hope to keep your superstar. Unless he knew. If he didn't it was one of the riskiest gambles of all time that just happened to pan out. I don't buy it either, he knew. So how does this pertain to Chris Paul? Let's connect some dots.

This is Michael Jordan's first off-season as an owner. Yes, that's right folks, the Charlotte Bobcats are the Omitted Option. Chris Paul was sitting courtside with MJ during the team's first ever playoff series. He's a member of Nike's Team Jordan. He's a young man that grew up in North Carolina idolizing the man that all North Carolina basketball players of his generation idolized. Are those reasons enough to come to Charlotte? No. Not by themselves, so let's take a look at the Bobcats off-season moves.

1. Fail to even offer their starting point guard (who helped lead them their first playoff berth) and let him walk out the door.
2. Pull out of a trade with Toronto for Jose Calderon at the last possible second. Reports initially said Jordan nixed this trade, but it was later laid at head coach Larry Brown's feet.
3. Re-sign an athletic, high-flying PF that would do very well in a more uptempo style of play.
4. Traded the expiring contract of Tyson Chandler for the voidable contract of Erick Dampier, and adding 2 years of Eduardo Najera and 3 years of Matt Carroll.

Raymond Felton is a mediocre starting point guard in the league (probably ranks around 16-20) so not wanting to overpay him in and of itself is not eyebrow raising, other than there were no better options in free agency. Same goes for the re-signing of Tyrus Thomas who they had acquired for a first round pick. They like the young man, nothing earth shattering about the move. The trade for Jose Calderon is where things get interesting. The trade was essentially done. Players were called, they were informed they'd been traded, but at the last moment the Bobcats pull the plug. "Larry doesn't like the trade" was the line written by many the next day. The team is about to acquire a starting point guard and they only ask their Hall of Fame Head Coach for his opinion hours after it's being reported as completed? Maybe. Maybe not. The team followed that up by almost immediately trading Tyson Chandler to Dallas for spare parts. In 24 hours they went from acquiring a starting point guard, which they needed, to opening a 2nd hole in their starting lineup for a piece of trade bait that would only be truly valuable to a team that is looking to shed salary, perhaps a team that's for sale say in Louisiana?

Every move the Bobcats have made seems to point to the acquisition of Chris Paul. Plenty of teams made moves to acquire LeBron and most went home without the prize, but CP3 doesn't get to handpick his destination at this point. The Hornets will be looking to make the best deal possible for them. The Cats can now offer $13 million in immediate cap relief. The only other two teams that could offer that would be Cleveland and Toronto. Two places Chris Paul would not be re-signing. The Bobcats can also offer an All-Star in Gerald Wallace whose $9 million is arguably the best piece for the best price that the Hornets would be able to add.

Reports came out quickly about Chris Paul's preferred destinations. Orlando, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Portland have all been mentioned. Let's take a quick look at the various situations.

Los Angeles Lakers - This option has largely been dispelled, but they re-signed Derek Fisher and signed Steve Blake, two point guards this off-season. That hardly seems like a team preparing to bring in a stud PG.

New York - Signed Raymond Felton at about $8 million per to play point guard. Again, doesn't seem like they were preparing to add a point guard. They also lack the pieces and salaries (unless NO wants to be the Warriors south), other than Eddy Curry, needed to send back.

Dallas - Understand the interest, but would the Hornets truly be willing to trade him within their division? They do have some expiring contracts to offer (Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson, and even JJ Barea) but no immediate cap relief and while Mavs are convinced that Rodrique Beaubois would be inticing some of his luster has come off and PG doesn't appear to be a need for New Orleans with Darren Collison playing well.

Portland - One of the best options because they have several talented youngsters and some expiring contracts. If, however, the Hornets are looking to get out from under more than just Okafor's contract (some people suggesting Posey will be required too) it's hard for the Blazers to assemble enough salaries without gutting the entire team.

Orlando - The doomsday scenario for the Bobcats. Paul and Howard would be deadly. It would be Phoenix's offensive attack, but with a top 5 defense on the other end. The best thief and shot blocker in the entire league on the same team, running the most dangerous pick and roll on the offensive end with 3-point shooters spotted up all over the place. Between Miami and Orlando the Bobcats would be destined for no better than 3rd in the division for the foreseeable future. Orlando has already made a push for a trade in the past and there's little doubt they will do the same again, but outside of Vince Carter's expiring contract there's very little short term relief they can offer the Hornets, with Gortat and Nelson the two most likely candidates to be offered.

To this point, the Bobcats are being completely ignored by the national media in the quest to land Chris Paul, but this team has quietly put themselves in position to make an attractive offer to the Hornets. For Bobcat fans they have to hope that the silence and decision to gamble on letting Felton walk and acquiring Dampier were moves made because Michael Jordan and the front office knew something everyone else didn't. We saw this very scenario play out in Miami, but for the first time in 30 years people in North Carolina are being forced to ask, 'Can MJ deliver in the clutch?' I wouldn't bet against him.

1 comment:

Cleet said...

I hope you're right, for the love of Pete I hope you're right.