To trade David West or not to trade David West?

That is the question. Hornets blogger (writing for ESPN’s Daily Dime) Niall Doherty thinks the team should move David West before it’s too late.

So what is New Orleans to do? Do they stand pat and suffer mediocrity for now, bumbling along until they can unload some crippling contracts (e.g. Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic) this summer or next? Or would they be better served blowing up the core (e.g. David West and Emeka Okafor) and hoping they can rebuild fast enough to keep Chris Paul in town beyond 2012?

My best guess is that GM/coach Jeff Bower will opt for the former, since he’s known to carefully weigh his options and refrain from doing anything drastic. But in the long run, I think that’s the wrong move. The Hornets aren’t going anywhere with West as Paul’s primary sidekick. Sad but true. D-West’s All-Star days are behind him, and the Hornets would be wise to move him before everyone else realizes it. Swap him out for some young, athletic talent, go after a legit second banana when Peja comes off the books, and Paul will be more likely to call New Orleans home beyond 2012.

The Hornets are 22-19, but have won eight of their last 11 games. They’re currently sitting in the #10 spot in the crowded Western Conference, but seem like a team destined to sneak into the playoffs and exit early. Doherty suggests that now is the time to move West, since his All-Star days are behind him and argues that he’s just not good enough to be Chris Paul’s primary sidekick.

However, West is playing very well of late (19-8 with 52% shooting in December and January), and while he’s not likely to make the All-Star Game this season, if the team were a little better, he has the statistical resume to get his third consecutive nod. Moreover, his contract is reasonable ($8.3 million next season, $7.5 million an an option to terminate in 2011), so it’s not like his salary is killing the Hornets financially.

So should New Orleans trade him? Well, it depends on who they could get. West is 29 and his pop-and-shoot game should age well (think Karl Malone). Without making any big moves, the Hornets won’t have any significant cap space until the 2012 season, which is the summer that Chris Paul can opt out. Depending on what kind of contract West will be looking for next summer (2011), it would make sense to hold onto him. Really, he’s the perfect complement for Paul’s drive-and-dish game, and I have a feeling that if they do move him, they’ll soon be wishing they had a power forward who could knock down an open jumper. Trading West now isn’t going to do much for Paul’s morale, so unless the Hornets can get a good young piece (that looks very capable of being Paul’s sidekick), it’s probably just better to keep the Paul-West core intact.

The funny thing is that if the Hornets hadn’t made the Tyson Chandler-for-Emeka Okafor swap, they would have had plenty of cap space in 2011 (~$25 million or more) to both re-sign West and add a big-time free agent. If Okafor is still on the roster that summer, the Hornets will have to decide whether to bring back West or use the cap space on another player.

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