Two days ago, New Orleans GM Jeff Bower’s phone was blowing up. But one rival GM suggested the breakdown of the call volume probably went something like this: 300 calls about the No. 11 pick in Thursday’s draft and one call about Chris Paul. Then, as often is the case at the height of the NBA’s essentially year-round silly season, the CP3 hit the fan.
Paul’s comments Tuesday that he’d be open to a trade if the Hornets weren’t committed to winning a championship sparked a flurry of speculation surrounding the All-Star point guard. So much so that owner-for-now George Shinn issued a statement that was 99 percent “we’re building around Paul” and 1 percent “never-say-never.” So the speculation continues.
Chances are, it’s all an overreaction. But given the uncertainty about the ownership transfer from Shinn to Gary Chouest – not to mention the fact that the Hornets are little more than an overpaid lottery team – and you have executives around the league eagerly throwing every conceivable offer for Paul against the wall in Bower’s office to see if one of them sticks.
“I call it the blink factor,” one GM said. “You want to see if they blink.”
Regardless of New Orleans’ intentions to keep Paul, the Hornets are facing what one exec termed a “serious” crossroads.
“No matter what,” the executive said, “they’re not going to pay [luxury] tax to win 30 games again. The 11th pick not going to change that.”
Short of trading Paul, one possible solution to solving the Hornets’ tax problem would be dealing David West. But a salary dump like that would only set off more alarm bells and accelerate Paul’s pursuit of a trade to a championship contender. With the understanding that I’m glad these are Bower’s problems and not mine, here’s the rest of the pre-draft buzz with less than 24 hours to go:
• League sources indicate that the first five picks Thursday night will go like this, with one caveat that I’ll explain: 1. Wizards, John Wall; 2. Sixers, Evan Turner; 3. Nets, Derrick Favors; 4. Timberwolves, Wesley Johnson; 5. Kings, DeMarcus Cousins. The caveat goes with picks 3-4. Rival executives are extremely dubious of all the noise about New Jersey taking Johnson over Favors, and they smell what I smell: a trade. Minnesota GM David Kahn already has telegraphed his intention to select Johnson. For Nets president Rod Thorn to immediately start beating the same drum smacks of a leverage play against Kahn. The Nets would agree to select Johnson for the T-Wolves with the third pick as part of a trade that would swap the rights to the third and fourth while giving the Nets one of Minnesota’s three picks in the 20s for their trouble. The Nets get Favors, whom they really covet, and pay him less money as the fourth pick. Everybody wins. The Kings have decided to take Cousins, unless somehow Favors is available.
• Sticking with the 3-4 conundrum, one executive poured cold water all over the notion that the Nets would consider taking Johnson as a down-payment to agent Rob Pelinka for one of his free-agent clients, Carlos Boozer. “Pelinka’s got to do Boozer right,” the executive said. “You can’t make that agreement now without knowing what options he’ll have – unless they’re going to overpay Boozer. And if they’re going to overpay Boozer, they don’t need to take Wesley Johnson.”
• Most available name on the trade menu? By far, it’s Elton Brand. The only way Philly will be able (or willing) to trade the No. 2 pick will be if someone is willing to take Brand and his albatross of a contract. Same goes for Minnesota’s No. 4 pick (which comes with Al Jefferson as the booby prize). Several teams have made credible offers to pay the freight for Beno Udrih or Francisco Rodriguez, but the Kings don’t want out from under those contracts badly enough to give up the No. 5 pick without getting back a player they like.
• Tony Parker, as you know, can be had for the right deal as the Spurs consider handing the reins to George Hill and getting back enough talent to make the most out of essentially a two-year plan to ride Tim Duncan until the end. Richard Jefferson can definitely be had. No takers so far.
• Rival GMs report that the Raptors have made Jose Calderon available in addition to Hedo Turkoglu, but face the same obstacles as the Spurs do in trying to move Jefferson. Zach Randolph is in the same boat with Memphis.
• I hereby appoint Thunder GM Sam Presti as president of my apartment building’s co-op board, because nobody does more with less. Some execs believe Presti isn’t finished after scoring 3-point shooter Daequan Cook along with the 18th pick for the 32nd pick in the draft. The Heat were willing to deal a player and a better pick in order to clear more cap space for their summer of sucking up to Dwyane Wade. One GM believes Presti has his sights set on the Pacers’ No. 10 pick, which is seriously in play. His target would be a rebounding, shot-blocking big man (Patrick Patterson or Cole Aldrich), something the Thunder sorely lacked in their first-round loss to the Lakers. The Pacers could probably get the point guard they’re after (Eric Bledsoe or Avery Bradley) with the 18th pick.