Where in the World Might Chris Paul Go?
And no matter what the world's best point guard said as the champagne flowed at Carmelo Anthony's wedding, it's highly unlikely that a Paul-Melo-Amar'e Stoudemire super team will give Madison Square Garden a thousand years of flowers.
What we do know: Today, Paul will sit down with his current employers and let them know how he really feels. It's about time; early Friday, strong reports emerged that the perennial All-Star point guard wanted out. Only now, in pistols-at-dawn fashion, is the organization getting answers.
There will no cameras at this meeting, no prime-time special. But let's be real: this is Chris Paul's Decision.
Whatever he tells the Hornets will leak out in no time, setting off a second wave of frenzy in what's without a doubt been the most eventful off-season the NBA has ever beheld. Between Paul's desire to play for a good team, the Hornets' need to get something resembling value, and how little flexibility teams have after July's orgy of spending (to make up for those months of restraint), what's realistically in store for Chris Paul? Here's what myself and Tom Ziller have deemed CP3's most likely, or amusing, pathways into eternity.
Chris Paul to the Trail Blazers: Forget about that rabble rouser Dan Gilbert; for the last few years, it's the Knicks who behaved as if they owned, or at least deserved, LeBron James. James to New York was the perfect story, even when all the underlying assumptions proved specious. We had heard it so many times, it just might come true.
So it is with Chris Paul and your Portland Trail Blazers. The PDX and Paul have been linked in the collective rumor unconscious ever since the 2005, when the Blazers went with Martell Webster over CP3. Well, not exactly; they traded down from the number three spot and took Webster, their guy, at number six. At the time, there was tension in the organization over the top-down decision; since then, Chris Paul has been the one who got away. Even if Steve Blake was once considered a key part of the Blazers championship dreams.
Luckily, they have a whopper of a deal to offer New Orleans. For Paul, Emeka Okafor's onerous contract, and the enigmatic Julian Wright, the Blazers can offer -- deep breath here -- Andre Miller, Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, and Joel Pryzbilla. That's a veteran PG who is still effective, three coveted youngsters, and a big who can start if necessary.
Oh, and the best part? If some or all of these new recruits don't work out, everyone comes off the books next summer (Miller's 2011-12 isn't guaranteed). That also means that they would be up for free agency soon, but who's counting?
And, as with every deal detailed here, Portland could sweeten the pot with picks. Depending on who you ask, the Blazers are either at an important crossroads or entering a sea of self-doubt. No more Kevin Pritchard, new GM, Oden falling further behind every day, and all that young talent just not making it out onto the floor with any regularity. Last season, they went old down the stretch, and it worked. Why not "mortgage their future" for a player arguably more transformative, and a better building block, than LeBron James?
The question is, can Brandon Roy play with an even stronger PG? I suspect that Roy will recognize a good thing and peace and harmony will reign.
Chris Paul to the Lakers: I know, the world isn't fair, the Lakers already pilfered Pau Gasol to revive their dynasty (I know, it wasn't that lopsided), and there's no way the defending champs should get Chris Paul. It flies in the face of every single idea of parity and competitive balance, even more than whatever went down in Miami: the league's best team shouldn't be rewarded for its success with a player like Paul.
Surprisingly, after the Blazers mega-deal, this one makes the most sense for more parties involved. The Lakers can offer up Andrew Bynum, who is still just barely on the right side of "intriguing", and take on Okafor. For their trouble, the Hornets would land Bynum and Lamar Odom; the defending champs would walk away with Paul and Okafor.
Another, more complicated version of this trade brings in the Nets, who have been desperate to make a splash this summer. They would get Odom, whose salary, age, and length of contract might give the Hornets pause. The Hornets get Bynum and the expiring Sasha Vujacic; Lakers, as before, but add in Kris Humphries.
The real question isn't whether LA would let go of Bynum -- they would, especially with Okafor filling some of the void down low -- but what the world's best PG does in the triangle, a system notorious for not needing point guards. Michael Jordan's point guards were glorified shooters; Derek Fisher isn't about to be mistaken for Gary Payton any time soon, and neither was Payton when he was a Laker.
How about some perspective: None of that matters if the Lakers can get Chris Paul. Great basketball minds will rise to the occasion, just like those bums in Miami never will. Phil Jackson is on the verge of retirement, and Paul both prolongs Kobe Bryant's career and gives them a new franchise player. Phil and Paul could work something out. Otherwise, it would be a major black mark on the resume of the Zen Master. Or, a blind spot justified only by the most mysterious koan.
As for the Hornets, well, Bynum is no slouch. It wasn't long ago that he was expected to turn into one of the premier big men in the game. Vujacic is either a decent role player or cap fodder, and then there are those oh-so-valuable Lakers picks -- though in the hands of the right GM, even second-rounders can yield useful players. Getting Odom would be neat, but the cap space would be fun, too. If Lamar went to New Jersey, it would restore that tragic aspect to him that's been sorely missed since he went all Hollywood.
Chris Paul to the Knicks: Let's go ahead and get this one out of the way: I don't see it happening. The deal works like this: Once New York can start trading its offseason signings, it sends Danilo Gallinari, Eddy Curry, Kelenna Azubuike, and Ronnie Turiaf to New Orleans (plus whatever picks the Knicks have left, like, ever) for Paul and Okafor. Yes, the numbers match. But guess what? If this happens, there's no way of bringing Melo over next summer.
Naturally, you take Paul over Anthony, but this somewhat deflates the Paul-to-NYC fantasy that may have triggered much of this excitement.
Say this transaction were to go through. The Knicks just invested in Raymond Felton. Here, they would give up the sole salvageable prospect of, I don't know, the last decade or so (they traded Trevor Ariza), which would carry with it an almost crushing kind of symbolism. I would never suggest passing up Chris Paul for the sake of Ronny Turiaf or Kelenna Azubuike, but this is exactly the kind of bind that superstars find themselves in.
If Paul really wants to go to a team with some depth or quality, he will find some of that gone when he arrives. By trying to escape the Hornets, he might well create another Hornets. It's like something the Ancient Greeks would have spent centuries trying to crack. The only answer is to put David Kahn on one side of fax machine.
Again, all this is moot, since the Knicks would go for it. But then Felton becomes redundant, there's no SG, and the team ends up with the bizarre frontline of Amar'e, Anthony Randolph, and Okafor. That looks more like the current Suns than any D'Antoni teams.
Wait, there's another Greek-ism: Any team that can land Chris Paul will be justly celebrated for the coup. However, that won't shield them from scrutiny when the season rolls around. It's the difference between macro and micro, global and local, or universal and practical.
The Hornets get cap space galore and a few good men, plus a budding small-market star/Peja Stojakovic 2.0 in Gallo.
Chris Paul to the Magic: As of now, this one's been debunked; it's only on the list because, so the winds whispered, it was on the list. Presumably, Orlando's displeasure with Jameer Nelson, and the presence of Dwight Howard -- who is big, exciting, and deserving of a super-pal -- makes the Magic a logical destination, if not a real possibility.
Here's how it would go down: Paul, Okafor, and the expiring Darius Songalia (why not) go to Orlando, Hornets get back Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Mickael Pietrus, Daniel Orton, and yeah, picks. I guess the Magic would be excited about this, right?
Chris Paul to Dallas: I have no idea how the Mavs always manage to end up in these things; aren't they forever capped to the gills? Is it just the belief that Mark Cuban can do anything, or cares so little that he will try anything?
Paul to the Mavs is murky as hell. For one, they have Jason Kidd, who is still better than you think in so many ways. Through the looking glass, one of the major assets Dallas could dangle is mystical French waterbug Roddy Beaubois. I know, no matter what the circumstances, YOU GET CHRIS PAUL. But does Dallas want to double up on big name point guards? Does New Orleans want two promising youngsters at the position?
Anyway, it would work like this: Paul, Okafor, and Songalia to Dallas; Caron Butler, Beaubois, DeShawn Stevenson, and NOLA retread Tyson Chandler, who can't be traded for a few months, to the Hornets. This one could be broken up into two separate trades if part of it wanted to happen sooner. Again, I'm most just shocked that the Mavs are somehow even in this discussion. Chalk it up to Cuban's non-stop appetite for publicity, or ambition in the face of logic itself.
For now, we are all prisoners.