Posted by Sam Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
| 11.16.09 | 10:10 a.m. CT
It was no surprise to read the Sacramento Bee rumor—and it seems just that—of New Orleans perhaps trying to dump Emeka Okafor for the expiring contract of Kenny Thomas. It seems farfetched given the equally poor financial situation and developing young (cheap) talent of the new arena-craving Kings, whom the Bulls face Tuesday to open their two-week road trip.
The Kings are one of the season's early surprises with a sprightly, youthful group with which they can build. Given their improved play since Kevin Martin was hurt, I wouldn't be surprised if they'd love to move Martin. One dimensional shooters like that generally are paid out of proportion to their contribution, and you suspect the Bucks, likewise, would like to find a new home for Michael Redd. You don't want guys like that coming back to steal shots from your youngsters, like top rookie of the year candidates for now in the Kings' Tyreke Evans and the Bucks' Brandon Jennings.
So I strongly doubt the Kings want any part of Okafor's strangling, long-term deal.
But what it demonstrates, beyond any denials to the contrary, is that the Hornets are prepared to begin breaking up their team. And they should.
The main move should be to trade Chris Paul.
Look, it's clear this season for New Orleans is lost with last week's firing of coach Byron Scott and now Paul's serious ankle injury, which could keep him out weeks. Deron Williams had something similar last season and struggled for months. The notion is you don't trade a star of that level, but Paul will never have as much value as he has now.
One reason you rarely see stars traded is their contracts. It was evident when the Suns took offers on Amar'e Stoudemire last season. Teams wondered how much they could give for a player who could leave after a year with an opt out. Paul is under contract at least through the 2011-12 season. The closer he gets to that, the less value he will have.
And this has been a Hornets franchise in deep decline. They had a terrific run in 2008, but fell back badly last season and now even more before Paul was hurt. I know Paul denied even knowing about Scott's firing. But those scouts who have watched the Hornets regularly this season have seen open dissatisfaction from Paul. No surprise. Stars don't do well with deteriorating situations. I hardly blame them. With deals for Peja Stojakovic, James Posey and Morris Peterson through at least next season, the Hornets are stuck for probably two years. Paul isn't about to sit still for that.
And remember who this owner is.
George Shinn, with young stars and the expansion story of the league with annual attendance records in Charlotte, traded Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson, both of whom went on to play key roles for Finals and conference finals teams.
The Hornets now also are in one of the toughest markets given the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, and they currently are into the luxury tax for this season and next. They badly need to dump contracts, and Okafor's with four years left after this one at an average of more than $13 million a season will be tough for anyone to take. Credit Michael Jordan for dumping that deal. With the coming free agents, who wants a nice role player for similar money?
The Hornets' best hope is to parlay Paul, and probably David West, into a future while both are at the top of their value.
The obvious trading partner is the Golden State Warriors, who have a terrific fan base and dysfunctional situation.
With a team of perimeter shooters, Paul would be the classic fit. The only time this Warriors group had success was with a point guard, Baron Davis. And by now it seems coach Don Nelson has alienated half the roster, a roster much better than its record.
Perhaps Paul and someone like Julian Wright, who'd fallen out of favor, for Monta Ellis and LSU's Anthony Randolph to give the Hornets two talented youngsters while Golden State gets its star to run its offense. Golden State also adds a draft pick. How good would shooters like Anthony Morrow and Stephen Curry be playing off Paul? Such a deal would also save the Hornets more than $2 million toward their vital goal of getting under the luxury tax this season since you can match salaries within 25 percent. It might send the Warriors into the luxury tax, but for a player like Paul given their situation you'd have to strongly consider that.
A Hornets restructuring may be more than a year way. Paul's not sitting around for that, and then he begins to get close to just walking away on you. And the Hornets badly need some salary relief this season. And then need young talent. You can say they give up this season, get a lottery pick, try to dump a deal (good luck with that) and hang onto Paul. I don't see Paul that patient. And I don't see enough talent anymore there to really make a run even with a lottery pick.
The other part of the thinking to get under the tax is to trade David West and perhaps someone like Darius Songaila to the Bulls for Tyrus Thomas, Jerome James and a protected draft pick. It might not be feasible given the Bulls proximity to the luxury tax line. It also would likely knock the Bulls out of the 2010 summer free agency chase without the James expiring deal.
But if you were a team like the Bulls you might have to ask yourself, Why wait? Maybe get an All-Star level power forward now with a reasonable contracts going forward and add a piece instead of a star next summer. But then what if Dwyane Wade or LeBron James do want to come? And you spent your money and cap space on getting David West? Have you then wasted your chance for greatness? But what if you pass on a deal like that and then no major free agent wants to come? Then a solid power forward like West looks pretty good. No, folks, these are decisions only best second guessed in the media.
For the Hornets, getting LSU's Thomas would give them a look at another young athlete and with the chance to let him go and save money after the season. Plus, the combination of the salaries with the Golden State deal would put the Hornets under the luxury tax for this season, perhaps the team's main priority. And why shouldn't it be. Who wants to pay a luxury tax penalty—other than the Knicks—with a non playoff team? You shouldn't.
Another, perhaps better, option for the Hornets is to expand the deal with the Warriors and build a team from dealing Paul and Okafor. Nelson has been part of some of the biggest deals in NBA history, from the Chris Webber draft deal to the massive nine-player Shawn Bradley deal, then the biggest ever.
Again, this would cost the Warriors the luxury tax, but it would save West for the Hornets and get them under the luxury tax. It could be something like Paul, Okafor and Peja Stojakovic (the Hornets' toxic asset) for Ellis, Andres Biedrins, Randolph, Stephen Jackson (the Warriors' toxic asset) and a draft pick. Each gets rid of a piece it badly doesn't want. The Warriors get a star and a banger and the Hornets get the outline of a new young team.
Rarely are there big trades in the NBA before 20 games when free agents from the summer can be dealt and teams get a feel for what they have. And both those teams have injured players for a few more weeks. So nothing is likely to occur for awhile. But it seems there could be something there.