Why Chris Paul wants to be traded, and how the Hornets can avoid it

January 18, 2010: Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets in action against the San Antonio Spurs during an NBA game in the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA. Tyler Kaufman/CSM.

The Times-Picayune spoke with a source close to Chris Paul about why the superstar point guard is disgruntled.

“No one from our camp has said that Chris demanded a trade,’’ a Paul confidante said Thursday. ”But they (Hornets) have not put themselves in position to win this season. We have the same team as last year, basically. The only thing that matters to Chris is winning.’’

The source close to Paul said as a result of the Hornets’ dormancy in the offseason, there are no remaining viable free agents who can help the team win this season. The source said Paul was promised by the Hornets’ brass at the end of last season that the team would be active in free agency, but now Paul feels misled and is stunned the team didn’t even pursue second-tier free agents.

The source close to Paul said he is befuddled by the team’s lack of interest in free agents Matt Barnes, who is leaning toward signing with the Los Angeles Lakers; Mike Miller, who signed with the Heat, and Shaquille O’Neal, who remains unsigned.

“Are they even calling guys and trying to get them to play?’’ the source said. ”We would have loved to hear that Mike had narrowed his choices down to the Hornets and Heat. But we’re never in the running for players.“

How did the Hornets go from up-and-coming contender to a non-playoff team in two years? Let’s take a look at GM Jeff Bower’s major moves since the summer of 2006:

Draft 2006: Selected forwards Hilton Armstrong (12th overall pick), Cedric Simmons (15th overall pick) and Marcus Vinicius (43rd overall pick).
None of these players panned out. For Armstrong, the Hornets passed on defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha, rotation swingman Ronnie Brewer. Rajon Rondo went #21 and Kyle Lowry went #24. They also missed on Paul Millsap (#47) in the second round. Passing on Rondo and Lowry were somewhat understandable since the Hornets were drafting for need.

July 12 2006: Traded the draft rights to center Andrew Betts and cash to the Indiana Pacers for forward Predrag Stojakovic
This is the move that put the Hornets into financial trouble. Peja averaged 20-6 and shot 40% from 3PT for the Pacers that season, but he started having trouble with his knees and back which hurt his already suspect mobility. Stojakovic played pretty well through the 2007-08 season (when the Hornets made their run to the West Semis), but since then his production and shooting has fallen off a cliff. What’s worse is that he’s grossly overpaid — he’s set to make $14.3 million this season, the last year of his contract — so the Hornets have not had any financial flexibility.

July 14 2006: Traded guard JR Smith and forward PJ Brown to the Chicago Bulls for forward Tyson Chandler; traded guard Kirk Snyder to the Houston Rockets for cash and a conditional second-round pick in 2008.
Chandler played pretty well for a couple of seasons and was a big part of that ’08 run in the playoffs. But injuries started to take their toll.

Draft 2007: Selected forward Julian Wright (13th overall pick) and guard Adam Haluska (45th overall pick).
Rodney Stuckey (#15), Jared Dudley (#22), Wilson Chandler (#23), Rudy Fernandez (#24) and Aaron Brooks (#26) all went after Wright and have had better NBA careers.

July 23 2007: Signed guard Morris Peterson.
A decent signing on paper, Peterson averaged 17-5-2 for the Raptors in ’05-’06 but only 9-3-1 when his playing time was slashed in ’06-’07. Bower paid Peterson around $6 million a year for reserve-type numbers. He averaged 8-3-1 in 24 minutes a game for the Hornets in ’07-’08.

Draft 2008: Selected forward Darrell Arthur (27th overall pick).
Traded the draft rights to forward Darrell Arthur to the Portland Trail Blazers for cash.

This is where the Hornets started to get a little frugal. They essentially sold this first round pick, passing on Mario Chalmers and Luc Mbah a Moute, who both played important roles for playoff teams in recent years.

July 23 2008: Signed forward James Posey.
Then Bower turns around and signs Posey to a long mid-level deal that he has not lived up to. Another swing and a miss on the wing.

Feb. 28, 2010: New Orleans Hornets guard Darren Collison drives in to the paint past Dallas Mavericks guard Jose Juan Barea during an NBA game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX Dallas defeated New Orleans 108-100.

Draft 2009: Selected guard Darren Collison (21st overall pick).
Traded two future second-round picks to the Miami Heat for the draft rights to guard Marcus Thornton.

Finally, the Hornets get something out of the draft. Collison and Thornton might just be the club’s future in the backcourt.

July 28 2009: Traded center Tyson Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats for center Emeka Okafor.
Panic set in when the team struggled. Bower tried to dump Chandler off on the Thunder, but he failed their physical. So here he moves him to Charlotte for the overpaid Okafor. The team is still mediocre, so now the Hornets are trying to rid themselves of him. Had they held onto Chandler and let his contract expire this season, they would go into next summer with at least $25 million in cap space.

November 12 2009: Replaced Byron Scott as head coach and named Tim Floyd assistant coach.
This only served to piss off Paul, who had a good relationship with Scott.

Draft 2010: Selected center Cole Aldrich (11th overall pick).
Traded guard Morris Peterson and the draft rights to center Cole Aldrich to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the draft rights to forwards Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter.

This is another cost cutting move. They got rid of Peterson’s salary, but it cost them the #11 pick. Couldn’t the Hornets have used Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Patrick Patterson or Larry Sanders?

July 13 2010: Bower fired as general manager.
There will be blood. Ownership is trying to convince Paul to stay by getting rid of the old guard. Will it work? Only time will tell.

On the whole, the franchise has been mismanaged. Bower did well to land Collison and Thornton in the ’09 draft, but he didn’t do a very good job evaluating talent in those other drafts. Stojakovic was okay for a year or two, but the drop off in his game coupled with his outrageous contract have forced the Hornets to cut salary in recent years. The mid-level deals Bower gave to Morris Peterson and James Posey did not work out, and the Chandler/Okafor trade has pushed the team further into salary cap hell.

What can the team do to move forward? To keep Paul, they need to package Collison with Okafor and try to land a young, cheap swingman or center in return. Then they can use the additional cap space next summer to make a run at a big-name free agent and possibly re-sign David West.

If Paul demands a trade, they can move him along with Okafor to create even more cap space next summer, maybe get an up-and-coming big like Andrew Bynum or Anthony Randolph to add to the Collison/Thornton core.

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