Solving Problems: The Post-Chris Paul Hornets?
The New Orleans Hornets are at a serious crossroads. David West is a free agent, looking for a large, long-term deal; Chris Paul can opt out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent next summer; and the NBA, which currently owns the team, is looking for a buyer . . . only adding to the uncertainty.
General Manager Dell Demps is charged with operating the team like any other but who exactly decides on the future of the franchise? Commissioner David Stern?
If the season does get cancelled, both All-Stars may have already played their final games for the Hornets and the roster is basically Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack.
That’s simply not a starting point for the future should Paul decide to up and leave.
If the Hornets can’t get Chris to extend, it may be time preserve cap space, explore trades and build for the future.
Hornets’ Most Pressing Need: Keep Chris Paul
How can New Orleans get their superstar point guard to sign an extension?
Ideally putting a team around him that is capable of winning a title would do the job but that’s going to take an investment that might not make sense if Paul leaves anyway.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), once agreed to, may help New Orleans keep him by limiting what other teams can offer.
Regardless there will certainly be a line of suitors with sizable offers.
Would Paul be willing to take slightly less to join a team like the New York Knicks for a little less (a la LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami)?
The Hornets, 46-36, gave the Los Angeles Lakers a challenge in the first round of the playoffs despite West sitting out with a knee injury.
It was the masterful play of Paul himself that helped New Orleans extend the series to six games.
If the team can improve and stay healthy, the Hornets may not be far off in the Western Conference where the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks having aging stars.
In all likelihood, Paul won’t sign an extension. He’ll probably weigh his options and then make a choice . . . one that could very well end up being New Orleans.
It may just come down to a leap of faith by the Hornets if they decide to reinvest in the current core.
Should that fail, New Orleans could end up sacrificing the future for a now that never comes.
Re-sign David West
Although he’s coming off of an ACL injury, West is one of the better power forwards in the league. Last year he averaged 18.9 points a game on 50.8% shooting.
Over the past six seasons he’s been a dependable scorer for the Hornets (19.2 points) with a steady face-up jumper and a tendency to hit big shots.
He’s not the most prolific rebounder at his position (7.3 boards a game over his career) but he’s a hard-working, humble player who has been an excellent complement to Paul.
David’s already 31-years old, so the Hornets have to seriously consider their future when negotiating a deal. A number of teams will be interested.
If New Orleans doesn’t anticipate Paul’s return, then rebuilding in earnest would be the better option.
That might mean a sign and trade for West (if legal in the new CBA) or just preserving spending power by letting him walk outright.
Dependable Shooting Guard
Marco Belinelli, a restricted free agent, had a strong regular season with the Hornets shooting 41.4% from three-point range while averaging 10.4 points a night.
Belinelli can shoot but he needs to improve as a defender and play-maker.
In the playoffs against the Lakers, Marco struggled . . . shooting 36.5% from the field and 30.8% from the arc.
Other than solid reserve point guard Jarrett Jack (who can play some undersized two-guard) and second-year player Quincy Pondexter (who still has to prove himself in the NBA), the Hornets are bare at the two.
Willie Green is a free agent and another player who is already 30-years old.
Because Belinelli is a restricted free agent and the team has little else on the horizon, it seems a natural fit that he’s re-signed but the Hornets need more than just Marco.
There are very few unrestricted, quality shooting guards on the market this summer (Jason Richardson and Jamal Crawford stand out).
Unless a restricted free agent unexpectedly becomes available like Arron Afflalo or Nick Young, the options beyond Belinelli are limited.
Depth up Front
Okafor had a solid regular season, averaging 10.3 points on 57.3% shooting with 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Although he shot a super-efficient 64.5% against the Lakers, he was often over-matched and his scoring dipped to 7.3 a game.
Asking Emeka to be a role player works if West is putting in about 20 a game. Okafor is just not going to work as the team’s primary option inside.
Free agent Aaron Gray did a solid job against the Lakers big men but he’s even more of a role player than Okafor.
Midseason acquisition Carl Landry did a credible job in the playoffs in place of West, putting up 15.8 points a game on 45.6% shooting from the field and 91.7% from the line.
Landry, also a free agent, isn’t a strong rebounder (5.1 over his career) but he’s another solid piece with a good attitude/work ethic.
Jason Smith is also a free agent who can help in spots. DJ Mbenga brings a lot of energy but generally lacks refinement.
If the Hornets returned West, Landry, Gray and Belinelli while adding on a quality (starting) shooting guard, the Hornets would have a credible future.
That would require a heavy investment from management, one that would only make sense if Paul is committed long-term.
Time to Sell?
In addition to the team going up for sale, it may be time for the Hornets to think beyond Paul, West and the current and core and rebuild completely.
Paul, West and Landry are all potent trade pieces (assuming the sign and trade is permitted).
The Hornets don’t have much young talent to speak of. Perhaps it’s time to not only move out the stars but put Okafor and Ariza on the block.
New Orleans may be able to come up some spending power this summer but not necessarily an entire max slot. If Paul were to depart in 2012, the team would then have the spending power but not necessarily the draw for a top replacement talent.
Only Okafor and Ariza are guaranteed for the 2013/14 season (technically both can opt out). By then the Hornets should have new owners, a couple of high-level lottery picks and the start of something new and potentially exciting . . . if they commit to rebuilding.
It’s a fine line between going for it with the current team, looking to supplement what the Hornets already have, and starting over.
Dealing Paul would need to bring back high value draft picks. The L.A. Clippers have cap room, the Minnesota 2012 pick and second-year player Al-Farouq Aminu. Moving Okafor in the same deal for the expiring Chris Kaman would give New Orleans a tremendous amount of cap room next summer.
What’s the right price? One lottery pick? Two? Prospects? Cap relief?
Can the Hornets land a young point guard in return like Russell Westbrook or Stephen Curry?
Would the Los Angeles Lakers offer Andrew Bynum for Paul? Are his knees trustworthy enough?
Another factor consider, unless Paul agrees to an extend-and-trade, how much can a team legitimately give up for the point guard?
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a number of intriguing assets, but Paul would have to be willing to stay with the Wolves long-term.
For the Hornets, it’s a judgment call from management or maybe the NBA itself. Do they think Paul will stay? Can they get him to sign an extension?
If he won’t put ink on paper now, are they confident he’ll do it in a year’s time?
The future of the franchise over the next five-plus years depends entirely on the decisions the Hornets make this summer.