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.

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Nets interview Dumars, Bower

January 18, 2010: Head Coach Jeff Bower 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 New Jersey Nets are considering Detroit GM Joe Dumars and New Orleans GM Jeff Bower to replace Rod Thorn.

Dumars won the 2002-03 NBA Executive of the Year Award. Under his watch, the Pistons went to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals, two NBA Finals and won the 2004 championship.

Bower helped transform the Hornets from an 18-win team in 2004-05, the year before he took over, to a franchise-best 56 victories three years later.

Notice the dates of Dumars and Bower’s successes. Detroit and New Orleans have struggled in recent years with these two guys at the helm.

Dumars did build a championship roster, but he is also the mastermind who passed on Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony to draft Darko Milicic and traded away Chauncey Billups in order to rebuild by overpaying Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva just last summer. The Pistons have gotten increasingly worse on his watch.

Bower did pluck budding prospects Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton out of the 2009 Draft, but he also made two miserable trades (for Peja Stojakovic and Emeka Okafor) that have totally handicapped the franchise financially, leading to rumors that Chris Paul would welcome a trade to ‘contender.’

Is this the best that the Nets can do? There is one name that jumps out as a great candidate for this job, and he’s looking for work: former Portland GM Kevin Pritchard.

2008 NBA Preview: #3 New Orleans Hornets

Offseason Movement: The Hornets #1 job this offseason was to lock up Chris Paul, and they managed to sign the superstar point guard to a deal that runs through 2013. GM Jeff Bower poached James Posey from the Celtics in a move that will bolster the team’s bench. He also signed Devin Brown to give the team some depth at guard.
Keep Your Eye On: The Hornets’ wings
In Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler, New Orleans has three of the top players in the league at their respective positions. (Chandler isn’t an offensive force, but he’s a terrific shot blocker and rebounder and his contract is a bargain at the center position.) The key to the Hornets success might be the play at off guard and small forward, which are currently manned by Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic, respectively. Both players are 31 and have shown signs of decline. Neither player is a defensive force, so if their shots aren’t falling, there’s really no reason for them to be on the floor. Julian Wright is an up-and-coming small forward who played very well in limited minutes last season and James Posey was signed for his championship experience, tough defense and clutch shooting. Devin Brown will also play a factor.
The Big Question: Can the Paul/West combo lead these Hornets to the Finals?
Both Paul (23) and West (28) are in their primes so the championship window is wide open. They nearly upended the Spurs in last year’s playoffs and have added a valuable piece (Posey) to their championship puzzle. The Hornets need good shooting from their wings to give Paul and West the space to operate. Whomever is on the floor in crunch time needs to be able to knock down shots because inevitably the Hornets’ season will depend on it.
Outlook: With Paul locked up for five years and West locked up for the next three, the Hornets are clearly in their championship sweet spot. But it seems like the team is one player away from being a serious title contender. Stojakovic was supposed to be that guy, but his defensive limitations and suspect shooting in the clutch may make the Hornets regret signing that huge contract two summers ago (if they aren’t already regretting it). Don’t be surprised if Posey gets a lot of crunch time minutes. If he can perform like he did with the Celtics last season, the Hornets have a good shot of getting out of the West.

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