I've been standing on the edges of this story so far. But it's moving so fast that I'm going to have to go on record pretty soon or it will all be over.
At this point it's widely accepted that Chris Paul will be traded by the start of the season - probably by the start of camp, which is this Friday. The Hornets don't want to have the same circus surrounding them that followed the Denver Nuggets last year. Of course, even then it was almost a given that Carmelo Anthony would be traded before camp opened, and he ended up staying in Denver well into February. So even if we think Paul is getting traded sooner rather than later, you never know.
The basic facts are pretty simple.
- Paul has an Early Termination Option after this season; he has told the Hornets that he will not sign an extension with the team and that he will exercise his ETO and become a free agent next summer.
- Paul's preferred destination is New York, where he would join Amare Stoudamire and his buddy Melo. Unfortunately for the Knicks, New York used every last decent trade asset in their possession to get Anthony to Gotham, so a trade to New York is a non-starter from the Hornets' perspective. Paul knows this - New York is out of the trade discussion, but looms over the summer of 2012 still.
- Paul's leverage in terms of destination is whether he will sign an extension with the receiving team. Bear in mind also that the new CBA will limit that type of extension to three years total - and that includes this season. So any team trading for Paul with an extension can sign him through 2014.
- Paul still has value as a one year rental. This is the main reason that the Knicks have no chance. Several teams will offer more for a Paul rental than the Knicks can scrape up. If Paul signs without an extension, he would once again be eligible to exercise his ETO and become a free agent in 2012.
Any number of teams would like him - hell, seems like all 30 teams in the NBA would like Chris Paul, right? How much those teams are willing to offer is the question.
From the beginning, the Los Angeles Clippers have been in the discussion as a possible destination. One of the first stories stated that Paul would be willing to sign an extension with the Clippers in LA, though that is clearly in question at this point. Still, the Clippers have many perceived advantages in this process:
- LA is a big market. If Paul's desire is to be on a bigger stage, LA certainly qualifies - it is second only to New York.
- The Clippers as a team have potential. Although the team only won 32 games last year, with Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and some other nice pieces on the team, the future is bright - particularly with Chris Paul at point guard.
- The Clippers have loads of trade assets. Chris Kaman is a large expiring contract, big enough to make the trade math work by himself. He also happens to be a productive player - a team acquiring Kaman could actually win some games while waiting for his contract to expire. The Clippers also have Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu, two 20 year old second year players who could develop into solid players. Perhaps most importantly, the Clippers have Minnesota's 2012 draft pick, and it's unprotected. The Timberwolves had the worst record in the league last season, and are likely to finish at or near the bottom this year as well. Finally, the Clippers have Eric Gordon - although they will not want to include the 22 year old rising star in a deal for Paul, they no doubt will if it puts them over the top.
The situation has reached a boil pretty quickly. The Hornets want to move quickly and are entertaining offers. As of now, it seems like the two leading contenders are the Clippers and the Warriors.
There seems to be consensus on what the Warriors have offered. The Hornets covet Stephen Curry, and any deal has to include him. In addition to Curry, the Warriors would send Ekpe Udoh (last year's lottery pick) and rookie Klay Thompson (this year's lottery pick) to New Orleans. It's unclear whether the Warriors would actually pull the trigger on this trade without an extension; it's a lot to give up for a rental.
What should the Clippers offer? The Clippers CAN beat an offer of Curry, Udoh and Thompson - but again, it seems that they shouldn't; certainly not without an extension.
The reports have been all over the map as to what the Clippers have offered. Some say they've offered both DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon already. But Ramona Shelburne has sources that deny that flat out.
For the rental, they probably started with Kaman, Bledose and Aminu - that's what I would have started with. I would not, under any circumstances, include either the MIN pick or Gordon in order to rent Paul. You could include a future first, but because a conditional first is already earmarked for Boston (with conditions until 2016), you can't actually offer a Clippers first rounder until 2017 - so that's not real valuable. There are available variations on this trade - if they like DeAndre better than Kaman, fine - DJ in a S&T can be the centerpiece. (It seems the Clippers management may be more attached to DJ than I am, but given what he's likely to sign for this summer, including him in a trade for Paul would not be a dealbreaker for me.)
For an extended Paul, the starting offer is Kaman, Bledsoe, Aminu and the MIN pick. Now you have to start looking at whether that trumps the Warriors offer. If they can get Curry from the Warriors, and they want Gordon as the Curry of the deal, I'd reluctantly agree - but take back the MIN pick. At that point the trades are pretty even - Curry and Gordon are more or less a wash; Thompson and Udoh versus Bledsoe and Aminu is also a wash - four unproven players chock full of potential, none with more than a year of NBA experience (though it's worth noting that Bledsoe and Aminu are younger than Udoh and Thompson). If the Hornets really like Jordan and his inclusion puts it over the top, you do it. In that case, you managed to keep a starting center (Kaman) and a great draft pick, while trading for the best point guard in the league. But I can't stress enough, you only do this if Paul is willing to sign the extension. Otherwise, you say thanks but no thanks.
Stay tuned. As I was writing these 1200 words, the situation changed 27 times.