Should Chris Paul Be on the New Orleans Hornets' Trading Block?

Taylor SmithAnalyst IFebruary 3, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 01: Darren Collison #2 and Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets sit on the bench during the game against the Phoenix Suns at the New Orleans Arena on February 1, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Now, before all you rabid Hornets fans out there start calling me a moron, please, hear me out. There are actually several reasons why this may not be the worst idea ever, and could actually make the Hornets a better basketball team in the end.

As has been well documented for quite some time now, the Hornets are floundering financially and are dangerously close to the luxury-tax line.

In fact, they recently traded center Hilton Armstrong to Sacramento for a conditional draft pick in 2016. They also dealt guard Devin Brown to Chicago in exchange for center Aaron Gray and guard Bobby Brown to the Los Angeles Clippers for a conditional second round draft pick.

These moves combine to help get the Hornets below the luxury tax line for this season.

For next season, New Orleans already has over $73 million committed in payroll to their players.

So, clearly, New Orleans (specifically, owner George Shinn) must be extremely interested in cutting a significant amount off of that number. 

You may be asking, "The Hornets have several players with high salaries, why shouldn't they just trade those guys without letting Paul leave?"

Frankly, the Hornets' roster isn't oozing with desirable talent.

Outside of Chris Paul, David West may be the most appealing player, and he's really not making all that much money ($9 million this season, $8 million next, $7 million the next). 

It's also unclear what kind of value West would really have on the trade market. Has Chris Paul essentially made David West's career so far? 

West is certainly a talent, but it's unclear as to whether or not he's a franchise-type player with the ability to put his team on his back.

Other than West, we're talking about guys like Peja Stojakovic, Emeka Okafor, and James Posey.

While those three can surely bring something positive to a team, I'm sure the team would prefer their talents without their hefty price tags.

So, in summary, Chris Paul is a guy that would help clear salary, while also bringing back a decent enough haul to where the Hornets' roster wouldn't be completely devoid of any talent.

Something that helps the Hornets here is that, in order for a team to get Paul, they're also probably going to have to take back someone like Stojakovic and his dreadful salary ($14.2 million this season, $15.3 million next). 

How can they trade Paul? Who will run the team?

Without trying to jump the gun here, it looks as though rookie Darren Collison knows what he's doing out there.

Is he Chris Paul? 

No, but he's been playing like him in Paul's absences this season.

Collison put up solid numbers earlier in the year when he had to fill in for Paul during an injury, and it's continued since Paul went down late last week.

In two games since Paul's recent knee injury, Collison has posted 17 points and 18 assists in one game, with 16 points and 14 assists in the next.

Like CP3, Collison is quick with the ball and is able to read the defense with efficiency. 

He looks comfortable both as a scorer and a distributor, and is also a potential top-flight on-the-ball defender as he progresses.

Again, Collison is not likely to turn into the second coming of Paul, but if his early numbers are any indication, he certainly has the ability to be a productive starting NBA point guard for years. 

What kind of collection can New Orleans get for Paul?

Needless to say, if you're trading the best point guard in the league, a player that also happens to be just 24-years-old, you're going to get plenty in return.

For example, take this fantasy trade, as proposed by ESPN's Bill Simmons last summer (I substituted Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler, as Chandler is, obviously, no longer with the Hornets).

If you count McGrady (now healthy, by the way), the Hornets are getting a legitimate starting five in return for Paul and the three aforementioned high-salary rotation guys.

With this particular trade, the Hornets are saving boatloads of money, with McGrady's $23 million salary coming off the books after this season.

Would the Rockets do this trade?

I'm not sure they would, as it really cuts deep into their core and hurts their overall depth.

However, this gives you an idea of what kind of package dealing somebody like Chris Paul could potentially bring back.

Which teams would be in the market for Paul?

Quite honestly, every team should be interested in potentially acquiring the best point guard in the league, but some of the teams with a young, promising player at that position could understandably not be all that interested.

Let's eliminate Utah, Chicago, and Boston right away.

Other teams, like Oklahoma City and Sacramento, have budding star point guards, but I'd have to think they would be willing to abandon plans for those players if Paul were a legitimate option.

Any team that would be interested in acquiring Paul, as we mentioned before, would have to absolutely knock the socks off the Hornets' front office with a combo of young talent and expiring contracts.

The Houston trade from earlier satisfies both requirements.

They get a young point guard (Brooks) that can step in immediately either ahead of or behind Collison and be a productive player. 

They get a veteran swingman (Battier) of the same ilk as Posey, with just two years left on his contract.

They get two power forwards (Landry and Scola) entering the respective primes of their careers.

(Also, if they'd prefer to just keep West and Landry, they could just let Scola walk as a free agent after this season.)

And they get McGrady's expiring $23 million contract, putting them well below the salary cap after the season.

This means that, if they chose to try and spend some money again this summer, they'd be able to at least contend for some of the top-tier free agents.

The only problem for the Hornets is that the potential departure of Okafor leaves something of a hole at center.

Sean Marks and newly-acquired Aaron Gray are the only traditional-style centers that would be left on the roster.

Honestly, it's difficult to find another team with a combination of young guys and expiring deals as good as Houston's. 

Do the Hornets have to trade Chris Paul?

Of course they don't, and they obviously would still prefer not to. 

However, trading him may be the only way for them to get out from under those other crippling contracts.

Peja Stojakovic is no longer a threat to score 20 points per game.

Emeka Okafor is a solid center, but he recently signed an extension that's going to earn him over $10 million every year for the next handful of years.

James Posey can still be a decent contributor, but teams aren't exactly lining up to get him at this point.

Paul's combination of age, ability, and potential could make those other bad contracts much easier to swallow in a potential trade. 

Again, Darren Collison is not Chris Paul, and likely never will be. 

Clearly, though, he has the talent and tools to eventually become a top-flight point guard on both sides of the ball.

I'm also not necessarily advocating the Hornets trading Paul.

Collison's hot start makes me wonder if New Orleans has even considered exploring the possibility of moving Paul in order to help rebuild their roster and free up some cash.

He's such a valuable piece at this point that it's not impossible to think that there's a team out there that would be able to offer a package so enticing that the Hornets would have to at least give trading their franchise player serious consideration.

Is it time for the Hornets to trade Chris Paul?

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