With the news that David West plans to test free agency once a new CBA is finalized (whenever that is), the Hornets have two choices: 1) let him walk and further hurt their chances of re-signing Chris Paul, or 2) overpay to keep West. Let’s assume they do the pragmatic thing and let him walk. At that point, the franchise needs to take the long-term view and try to rebuild. Paul will most likely leave at the end of the season, so the Hornets should try to get as much as they can while they can, or else they’ll end up like the Cavs or the Raptors, watching their star walk away with very little to show for it.
With that in mind, here are five semi-reasonable trade offers for Chris Paul. I use the phrase ‘semi-reasonable’ because New Orleans fans need to keep their expectations in check — teams are never able to get equal value for their disgruntled/one-foot-out-the-door stars.
1. Thunder trade Russell Westbrook, Cole Aldrich, Thabo Sefolosha and Nate Robinson for CP3.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. The key to this trade is obviously Westbrook — a young All-Star who has proven that he’s not ready to lead the Thunder, who could absolutely take over the Western Conference if they could get heady, consistent point guard play. Westbrook is only 22, and could eventually develop into a top tier point guard, but right now he doesn’t know how to run a team. He turns the ball over way too much and his shot selection in crunch time is suspect at best. The Thunder shouldn’t wait for him to develop; with the Lakers and Spurs on the decline and Dirk Nowitzki getting older, the time is now for OKC. On the flip side, the Hornets have the luxury of letting him develop. Who knows, maybe he turns into a top 10 player. Even if he has plateaued, a 22-year-old All-Star is not a bad haul for CP3, who is likely out the door next summer. Aldrich and Sefolosha sweeten the deal a little bit, balance the salaries out, and give the Hornets a couple of young rotation players. As for Paul’s contract situation, call me crazy, but I think he signs a long-term deal given the opportunity to play with Kevin Durant and James Harden.
2. Celtics trade Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for CP3 and Aaron Gray.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. This is a ‘one last run’ move for the Celtics, who aren’t going to get past the Heat and Bulls with their current lineup. Paul adds a new dimension to the Celtics offense and would be deadly in the pick-and-pop with Kevin Garnett. Plus, he’d give the Celtics a guy to build around once they decide to part ways with KG and Ray Allen, allowing Paul Pierce to fill a more complimentary role. (This assumes that Paul would be willing to re-up with the Celtics.) For the Hornets, they get an All-Star point guard who has had more ups than downs, along with a versatile forward (Green) who has proven he can score 16+ a game.
3. Clippers trade Eric Gordon, Mo Williams and the T-Wolves’ unprotected 2012 first round draft pick for CP3.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. Gordon developed into a 22 ppg scorer in just his third season in the league. Williams is a capable point guard (and former All-Star), but the other key to this trade is the Wolves’ unprotected 2012 first round pick that the Clippers own as part of the Marko Jaric trade. (That’s right, the T-Wolves are still paying for Marko Jaric.) With the direction Minnesota is headed, the pick is likely to be in the top 5, so the Hornets would likely get another player with star potential in the Draft. The Clippers would be able to pair CP3 with Blake Griffin, but the question is would there be enough talent on the roster to convince both players to re-up? Plus, there’s the Donald Sterling Factor.
4. Grizzlies trade Rudy Gay and Mike Conley for CP3.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. The Grizzlies proved that they could win without Gay, but struggled in crunch time because they didn’t have a playmaker on the perimeter. Paul would fit in well with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and maybe he’d be able to coax better production out of O.J. Mayo as well. The Hornets would get a very good small forward in Gay (20-6-3, 40% 3PT) along with an improving point guard (Conley) to replace Paul. The problem with this trade is Paul’s willingness to sign a long-term deal. It’s not likely that he’s going to want to stay in Memphis for the next five years.
5. Hawks trade Josh Smith and Jeff Teague for CP3.
See this trade in the ESPN Trade Machine. Perhaps Atlanta would need to include a first round pick to sweeten the deal, but Smith is a borderline All-Star (and possibly Atlanta’s best player) and Teague played very well when given the keys in the Playoffs. The Hawks would have one of the best backcourts in the league in Paul and Joe Johnson, and Al Horford is more than capable of hitting jumpers off the pick-and-pop. The Hornets would get a supremely talented power forward to replace David West and Teague could emerge as a starting-caliber point guard in a year or two.
In the end, the Hornets probably won’t make a bold trade including Paul, but the longer they wait, the worse off they’ll be. The Nuggets did all right with the Carmelo trade, but it nearly destroyed their season.