This Is Not What Chris Paul Had in Mind for Hornets
Exhibition or not, losing by 50 is never a good sign.
"It was all bad,'' Paul said Sunday night after his Hornets were thrashed like an overmatched high school team, 135-81, by the Orlando Magic. "It's definitely a concern, a concern on how we react.''
Paul, widely regarded as the best point guard in the NBA, set off a major alarm this summer when said he would be receptive to leaving New Orleans if the Hornets could not build a contender around him, leading to preliminary trade talks with several teams and a change in leadership of the Hornets.
Paul later calmed the furor by saying all the right things after his meeting with Demps and Williams, and he repeatedly has voiced his belief that the Hornets are headed in the right direction. And he has shown it throughout preseason by his tireless work ethic.
But after being obliterated Sunday -- Paul still was in the game late in the third quarter when his team trailed by 42 points -- he might be having second thoughts about the future of the Hornets.
They play Wednesday against the Heat and the Three Kings of Miami, sure to have him thinking again about what it would be like to play with a better supporting cast.
"There have been a lot of good things taking place off the court (in New Orleans). It's a different culture. We're building an identity,'' he said. "If it translates onto the court, it should be a good season. It's up to the players now.''
The Hornets weren't very good without Paul last season. They won just 14 of 37 games when he was out with injuries. And if Sunday was any indication, they won't be very good with him now, which is sure to touch off more speculation if they start slowly.
"He is passionate about winning. And he wants to get a crew around him that can help him win a championship. It's what they all want,'' said Williams. "It's why LeBron left Cleveland. They want a crew around them.''
The Hornets made serious changes this summer -- on the court and in the front office --- bringing back only six players from last season. They added forward Trevor Ariza (Houston) and guard Marco Belinelli (Toronto) to the starting lineup. They expect Jason Smith (Philadelphia) and Willie Green (Philadelphia) to figure prominently as reserves. They hope to use the expiring contract of veteran Peja Stojakovic ($14 million) -- either before the trade deadline or after the season -- to land them more front court help.
"We're not on the level of Orlando yet, but we plan on being there some day,'' Williams said. "And Chris will be a big part of that.''
Paul, an All-Star each of the last three seasons, is the only player in NBA history to lead the league in both assists and steals for consecutive seasons. His 30-points, 19-assist, 9-rebound game early last season was just another indication of how dominant he is. Those kind of games are not uncommon for him.
His ability to both score at will and provide high-volume scoring opportunities for his teammates is unprecedented in today's game, making him invaluable for a contender but under-utilized for a team without enough good pieces.
He may have just been joking this summer about teaming up with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony in New York, but it sure gave everyone something to think about.
"I play in one mode, an attack mode, and that's not going to change too much (as the Hornets change),'' he said. "I'm always going to be that guy. I don't care if I'm playing at the YMCA. I'm a point guard. I'm always going to get my teammates involved. I've played enough to know when to pick my spots, and to get my shots whenever I want to.''
Paul gave no indication Sunday, even in a laughable loss, that he was anything but committed to the Hornets now. He had seven points and 10 assists in 27 minutes Sunday, a day after playing 26 minutes in Memphis. He had no intention of leaving the game early when Williams asked him during a huddle.
"All everybody talked about (this summer) was him wanting to leave New Orleans, but in the second quarter, he's trying to get us back into the game, when I hadn't planned on bringing him back,'' Williams said. "There's never been a time when he just goes through the motions. He's a guy who's committed, and it shows in the way he prepares and plays.''
Paul scoffed Sunday when asked about the furor that erupted this summer over his future in New Orleans. Yet he also knows it could restart soon if the Hornets struggle more like they did Sunday.
"That was over a long time ago. I'm happy it's all in the past,'' he said. "It's preseason now. Everything is a good story in the summer. It didn't catch me off guard. Right now, it's so-far, so-good.''