I just watched 2 more New Orleans Hornets games this season than I was prepared to watch. It's really a shame to watch Chris Paul at the height of his powers, showing everyone that everyone's coronation of Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams or even the MVP Derrick Rose as the best point guards in the league was incredibly premature. Truthfully, CP3's best teammate in his just completed playoff series was the Lakers' arrogance and apathetic play. With David West injured, Trevor Ariza was his best teammate, followed by Carl Landry, Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack, Aaron Gray and Marco Bellinelli. In no universe, should those guys be your 2 through 6 when you're in the playoffs. If you scour NOLA's roster holdovers from this year, along with their salary commitments, it's not hard to see why talk of Chris Paul leaving the team is such incessant digital chatter. Their series against the Lakers is a testament to how great Chris Paul is, as he dragged 14 stiffs to a playoff spot that had no business taking in the first place. This team is an absolute mess, and if I were the GM, I would have no shortage of work to do.
Chris Paul: 16.35 million
Emeka Okafor: 12.5 million
David West: 7.2 million (player option)
Trevor Ariza: 6.8 million
Jarrett Jack: 5.2 million
David Andersen: 2.7 million (team option)
Marco Bellinelli: 3.37 million
Jason Smith: 3.13 million
Quincy Pondexter: 1.15 million
Aaron Gray: 1.12 million
Total: 50.7 million
Marcus Banks: 4.7 million
Willie Green: 3.9 million
Carl Landry: 3 million
DJ Mbenga: 1 million
A bunch of dudes: 500,000
Total: 13.1 million
1). You can't trade Chris Paul
I'll tackle this one first, obviously. Like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul has an player option for the 2012-2013 season, which he will most likely decline. But the reason to retain rather than trade Chris Paul is more a business decision that's going to be handed down by the league than anything else.
A little more than a year ago, the NBA bought and took stewardship of the Hornets, until a new owner could be found. The hope is that the new owner would be a little bit more free-spending than the notoriously cheap and league-wide detested former owner George Shinn, and more importantly, keep the franchise in New Orleans. So until the team is bought, the league has to treat this team like a used car - the engine might be junked and the future very well could be bleak, but keep that thing clean and running well enough for a test drive.
Without Chris Paul, the Hornets are awful - a borderline lottery team with no young player to build around. But some would argue "if you are going to sell the team and Chris Paul is probably going to leave anyway, why don't you trade him for some young pieces and show a new owner that perhaps the team will be good in the next couple years". A fair point. But let's look at a team like Memphis, for example. They are riding high now with just the fourth 8th seed upset in league history and have a pretty good team with Z-Bo, Pau's brother, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and OJ Mayo. But when they traded Pau Gasol 3 years ago, could you see that? I don't think anyone expected Rudy Gay would be as good as he is now, Z-Bo was nowhere in sight and Mike Conley was going to theme parties at college in Ohio. That team looked like it had no future with a roster filled with Hakim Warrick, Kyle Lowry, Javaris Crittendon and Kwame Brown. My point is, that even if you are to trade a superstar like Chris Paul, the future looks dim almost no matter what the situation. The prospects that the team would receive for even the league's best point guard (albeit one with bad knees) couldn't make this team look better to a buyer, unless that player was say, Blake Griffin, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins or Stephen Curry (and obviously those trades aren't happening). You might as well keep Chris Paul, and sell the franchises under the pretenses that he might stay. False hope might work - look at the Clippers. They've turned a profit for years.
BURN. Neil Olshey is an idiot.
2). Hope that David West will punch his player option
I like David West. He's a nice player, seems like a nice guy (his profile picture always looks something like this. How could you hate a guy like that? He looks so friendly) and I was bummed out when he blew out his knee this year. If not for that injury, he was looking towards a 60 to 75 million dollar payday from either New Orleans, New Jersey, Indiana, Milwaukee or Memphis (had they not re-signed Zach Randolph). With his injury, I think he accepts his player option and comes back mid-season to the Hornets, rebuilds his value and then goes for a big deal next summer.
3). Offer Carl Landry a 5-year, 40 million dollar deal
Because that's how much he's worth. Carl Landry could be the best sixth man in the league any year now. He brings energy, hustle and a post game that belies his size. But he's a bench player. He should be paid accordingly. Anything more than that is ludicrous. I wouldn't want that guy as a start on my team, let alone being paid starter's money. Don't get crazy now NOLA.
4). Peace out David Andersen, Jason Smith and Willie Green ; retain Aaron Gray and DJ Mbenga; don't extend Marco Bellinelli
Let those guys walk. Smith has some size and Andersen has a nice shooting touch, but both are replaceable and way too expensive. Willie Green is a streaky player who, on his best day, is a good backup guard. Have fun playing in Charlotte next season guys. I've never seen much out of Aaron Gray, but good lord is that a big boy. I'd retain him by virtue alone of the fact that he is a human roadblock. I just like DJ Mbenga. He is not afraid to shoot 15 foot J's that he can't make and after muscling his way for a rebound, he'll inevitably bobble it out of bounds. But he barely touches the court and I hear he's a great practice player, especially for such a cheap price.
I like Bellinelli, but again, there is no way that that guy should be a starter on your squad. I've realized what the Hornets have is the best second unit in the league...that plays as a first unit. If you had Bellinelli, Landry, Trevor and Jarrett Jack coming off your bench, you'd probably have to infer that your starters were some of the best in the league. That foursome is just as good as Steve Blake, Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom, no? But unfortunately that's not the case.
5). Use that little bit of cap room to get a real shooting guard
If they could be had for the right price, Jamal Crawford, Jason Richardson and J.R. Smith are not bad choices. Unfortunately, I think all of those guys will get deals that pay them 8 to 10 million dollars annually, which is a little bit out of NOLA's price range. If you're the Hornets, you have to hope one of these guys is dumb enough to disregard the red flags of a team with no owner, very little money, spotty home crowds in a devastated region of the country that they might not even be in for long and they REALLY want to play with Chris Paul.
Michael Redd is an interesting possibility coming off of knee surgery. He knows how to play with CP3 from their time on the 2008 Redeem Team together, was one of the best 3 shooters in the league and will be looking for a make-good contract after coming back from two (!) major reconstructive knee surgeries.
If none of these guys is available, none of the alternatives is much better than Quincy Pondexter or Marco Bellinelli. The best of the leftovers are a group that includes Leandro Barbosa, Mickael Pietrus, Shane Battier, Shannon Brown, Mike Dunleavey, Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic.
But there is no situation where Sasha Vujacic or Vladimir Radmanovic become viable options.
Barring a miracle trade, a completely underrated 7 million dollar signing for a shooting guard or Quincy Pondexter suddenly playing like Joe Johnson, there is no way that this team will be much better than it is now. Keep that sticker price high and that car clean NOLA.