Chris Paul Happy With Winning Hornets
His most memorable statements only increased the intrigue, as the three-time All-Star told ESPN on June 24 that he was "open to being traded" if the Hornets weren't committed to winning. At the time, Hornets forward David West didn't know what to believe. So he did what almost every other curious party didn't have the ability to do: he called the man himself.
"We talked about it (during that time)," said West, the eight-year veteran who has played with Paul since the guard was drafted fourth overall by the Hornets out of Wake Forest in 2005. "So I knew what his perspective was, just in terms of wanting to win. He wants an opportunity to win. That's it."
Yes folks, it's really that simple. Paul's situation, according to anyone and everyone who has a pulse on his priorities, is truly about the one thing that so often seems to be a subplot to some of the game's stars: winning.
Sure, there are big city, super-team dreams -- like the one to join Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in New York that was revealed in mid-July and confirmed recently by FanHouse. Of course he'd like to be on national television, say, more than the one time that is scheduled (on March 6 against Cleveland on ESPN; five more games are on NBATV, however). But this most-surprising Hornets start that continued with a win over Sacramento on Sunday is precisely what was needed to stymie the storylines of the summer.
At last tally, New Orleans -- which went just 37-45 last season when Paul missed 37 games because of knee surgery on his left knee and an ankle injury -- is tied with San Antonio for the league's best record at 11-1 in what is the best start in franchise history. And Paul, true to his words shared with West and so many others, isn't afraid to change his tone as a result.
"Yeah, I'm happy," he said with a smile after a gritty 75-71 win in which he shot just 2 of 12 from the field for four points but had 14 assists despite the Hornets shooting just 32.2 percent. "I'm happy. We're good to go."
A relaxed and content Paul sat at his locker and spoke with the media for approximately 15 minutes after the latest win, a near eternity in the world of regular-season postgame press conferences. He discussed what has led to this new, happy place, from the defensive-oriented, professional tone set by first-year general manager Dell Demps (a former San Antonio and New York executive) and first-year coach Monty Williams (a former Portland assistant) to the roster remaking that started just three weeks after the new regime began.
Perhaps most importantly of all, there are reports that the team's ownership change from George Shinn to Gary Chouest that was supposed to be completed by the end of April should indeed happen by the end of the year. Sources closes to Paul insisted all along that his concerns about the Hornets were rooted in a fear that Shinn was either financially unable or unwilling to take the necessary steps to contend for a title.
Yet while the transfer has yet to take place, New Orleans has, in fact, added nearly $15 million in salary since last season while taking transparent and productive steps to prove itself to Paul. The first came on Aug. 11, when Demps dealt second-year point guard Darren Collison to Indiana (along with forward James Posey) after so many -- present company included -- theorized that Collison's presence and effectiveness could make it easier for the Hornets to trade Paul and start building anew. New Orleans netted small forward Trevor Ariza in return, adding the long and versatile two-way player whose championship experience with the Lakers in 2009 was precisely the kind of pedigree Paul was looking for among his teammates.
Smaller moves included acquiring guard Willie Green and forward Jason Smith from Philadelphia, followed by the acquisition of guard Jerryd Bayless (for a first-round pick) from Portland and the subsequent dealing of Bayless and sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic to Toronto in Saturday's five-player deal which centered -- for the Hornets' purposes -- on the addition of longtime friend of Paul and new backup point guard Jarrett Jack (who Paul said is "like a brother to me").
Paul was watching all the while, appreciating how aggressive and engaged Demps seemed to be while being impressed with Williams' knowledge of the game and implementation of his beliefs. And in what Demps himself deemed a "results-oriented business," the results have clearly turned this once-tumultuous tide.
"I'm definitely enjoying myself," said Paul, who had no prior relationship with Demps or Williams. "Both of those guys have come in and really made this like a family. And with everything that's going on, they're involved. Dell's not a GM that just shows up at the games. We see him at the practices, we see him on the road, and he's very engaging.
"The coaching side (with Williams) is unbelievable. Coach knows that I'm a basketball junkie. Nobody watches more basketball than me, you know what I mean? So when other teams run plays, I already know the names of them, so me and coach have a really good dialogue of what's going on here and there."
As if he has had nothing to do with it.
For as much as Demps and Williams deserve credit for their handling of the situation and their ability to change the Hornets culture for the better so quickly, the part about Paul being Paul again can't be overlooked. He's averaging 16.8 points (49.3 percent shooting), 10.5 assists, five rebounds and 2.3 turnovers per game thus far, all while playing a career-low 34.4 minutes. And he's doing it with a knee that all involved acknowledge still isn't 100 percent, with Paul still wearing a heavy-duty brace after having his meniscus repaired.
"He's playing lights out," Williams said before his team faced the Kings. "He's efficient. He's an All-Star, so those guys find ways to figure it out. Some nights he has scored over 20, one night he had 19 assists or something crazy like that. He's playing like an MVP. You take him off this team, and we're not that good, and that's the sign of an MVP."
An MVP candidate who was a forgotten man last season, when his main counterpart, Utah's Deron Williams, was crowned by so many as the best point guard in the game and Paul was merely the guy who couldn't stay healthy.
"I don't know (if people forgot about him) and I really don't even care," Paul said. "(This summer) I had a chance to just sit back and chill and not worry about all the stuff I used to (worry about). Just being injured, I started appreciating it a lot more and starting to understand that, game to game, you just never know -- injuries happen, it is what it is, and people are going to talk, you know what I mean? But I learned to just care about these guys who are in the locker room."
And, of course, he still cared about winning above all else.
"Chris wants to win, just as our organization does, and whenever you have someone who wants to win, it's a great start," Demps said. "(But) we don't have any magic dust that we're spraying on, or great clichés or anything like that. We're just ourselves and we're just trying to work together."
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