Just two years ago, Chris Paul was an MVP candidate, and the New Orleans Hornets were one quarter away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the San Antonio Spurs. After their magical playoff run, Chris Paul signed a 3-year contract extension and it appeared that the Hornets would be in the category of title contending teams for the next several seasons.
How rapidly this Hornets team has fallen out from that category.
Last year, faced with high expectations, the Hornets never found their stride during the regular season, despite another stellar season from Paul, and were easily dismantled during their series loss to the Denver Nuggets. This season, Paul is averaging 26.6 ppg, 9.7 ast, and 1.9 3PT, yet the team has started 2-5, and could easily be 1-6.
Yesterday, I attended the L.A. Lakers game hosting the Hornets. The Hornets were playing against a Lakers team without their starting big men, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Still, the game was essentially over after the Hornets’ first possession, when Kobe Bryant stole the ball and dunked it for the first points of the game, en route to an embarrassing 104-88 loss for the Hornets.
Paul was stifled by the Lakers’ defense and the rest of the team was even more abysmal. At one point the Hornets’ missed a lay-up and an open put-back during a three-on-one fast break, while the defense allowed Lakers’ DJ Mbenga and Luke Walton to score at will.
Rajon Rondo said that Paul would never win a championship, I am starting to believe that Rondo may be right.
It has only been a little more than a year since that magical playoff run, but since then, nothing has gone right for the Hornets. Paul’s 3-year extension takes effect this year, and he is hoping that within that time, the Hornets’ organization will bring him help. Yet, the organization is unwilling to sign big names in fear of eclipsing the salary cap and paying the luxury tax. With the 2010 free agency approaching, it appears that lucrative free agents will not be signed by the Hornets’ and the team will fall even further into mediocrity.
Despite Paul’s talent and competitiveness, he will never lead his team to a championship with the current pieces surrounding him. Paul knows that and the fans know that. The longer Paul stays with the organization, the slimmer the chances of winning a championship.
Chris Paul is locked for three more years and is patient for now, but sooner or later he will have had enough with the Hornets organization. It’s unfortunate that Paul’s talent will be delegated to keeping the Hornets just above the Western Conference’s worst teams. Many elite NBA teams have made improvements to their rosters this season, while the Hornets players have become older or are ineffective. Just making the playoffs will be an extremely challenging task.
CP3 and New Orleans fans can only hope that the Hornets can become contenders within the next three years. Otherwise, it is safe to assume that once Paul’s contract ends, the Hornets will lose its franchise player and its future.