The next step in the drama surrounding All-Star point guard Chris Paul will happen Monday, when he will meet with New Orleans officials and decide whether to push his angst to the next level by formally -- and in person -- requesting to be traded.
Hornets coach Monty Williams, for one, wants to hear those words straight from his point guard's mouth before drawing any conclusions about their future together.
"We'll sit down with Chris on Monday and see what happens," Williams told CBSSports.com by phone Friday. "I'm as eager as anybody to see where this goes."
It is a critical time for Williams, who is only in his second month on the job yet already is facing a crisis that could affect the franchise for years. His key ally in Monday's sitdown with Paul, new GM Dell Demps, has only been on the job for 48 hours. Their goal will be to talk Paul out of his desire to be traded, which was first reported Wednesday by CBSSports.com .
"This has become a national story, and it's not a story," Williams said. "Nothing has happened yet."
On Monday, it will -- one way or another. As CBSSports.com reported Wednesday, Paul has decided he wants to be traded and has asked his new agent, Leon Rose, to inform New Orleans management that he prefers to be dealt to the Knicks, Magic or Lakers. Other teams have joined the mix since then, with sources saying that the Mavericks and Trail Blazers have been the most aggressive in their pursuit.
"Other teams are jockeying to get in the mix," said one person familiar with the league-wide pursuit of one of the most gifted point guards in the league.
Paul's desire, according to a person familiar with his strategy, is to follow in LeBron James' footsteps by joining forces with one or more elite players. While the Lakers are viewed as a long-shot scenario, the Magic and Knicks both present tantalizing possibilities. In Orlando, Paul would team with Dwight Howard, who already has informed Magic management that he wants to play with Paul. In New York, Paul would play the role of a younger, higher-octane Steve Nash by pairing with Amar'e Stoudemire in Mike D'Antoni's offense, which was invented for a point guard of Paul's exquisite gifts.
For starters, any team hoping to land Paul would have to take Emeka Okafor and his onerous contract, which pays him $53.2 million over the next four years. If New Orleans decided to entertain offers for Paul, the team also likely would insist on including James Posey, owed $13.4 million over the next two years. The Magic could offer Vince Carter, who has only $4 million of his $18.3 million guaranteed for the 2011-12 season, as well as draft picks. The Knicks don't have draft picks to offer, but since they're approximately $3 million under the cap, they could take back $3 million more salary than they send out in the deal -- a significant cost savings for the Hornets in addition to the $3 million cash the Knicks wouldn't think twice about adding to the deal. By acquiring Anthony Randolph and Kelenna Azubuike from Golden State in a sign-and-trade for David Lee, the Knicks also have young assets to pair with Danilo Gallinari and/or Wilson Chandler in a credible proposal for Paul.
Of course, if Paul escalates the trade request that has been made through intermediaries into a formal request Monday, the Hornets would be under no obligation to oblige him -- much less trade him to the team of his choice. Williams said the team's strategy for dealing with such a situation wouldn't be devised until after Monday's meeting.
Williams is putting up a brave front, and is genuinely looking forward to the chance to sell Paul on his vision for the team. But he and Demps, having stepped into a situation that was not their doing, also face the responsibility of reconciling the past year of turmoil in a way that makes Paul reconsider.
Those attending Monday's meeting for the Hornets will be Demps, Williams and team president Hugh Weber. It is not clear whether Paul will be joined by his new agent, Rose, who has not responded to calls from CBSSports.com to determine whether he is officially representing Paul after a 15-day waiting period following the end of his relationship with Octagon.
But one thing is clear: The job of selling Paul on the basketball reasons to stay will fall on the shoulders of Demps and Williams, who are dealing with a situation of this magnitude for the first time -- at least as the top decision-makers on an NBA team. The firing last week of experienced GM Jeff Bower -- and further, subsequent housecleaning in the front office -- have only made the organization more vulnerable at a time when Paul's impatience with the team's direction is at an all-time high.
After Bower was let go, the Hornets fired director of basketball administration Andy Loomis. Director of scouting Brian Hagen has survived the purge, but doesn't have a contract for next season, sources say.
As for Paul, Williams said he's texted back and forth with his point guard in advance of Monday's meeting. The Hornets' new coach sees the writing on the wall, but doesn't want to read what Paul or his representatives have to say -- he wants to hear it from him.
"All of this stuff has come out with no quotes from Chris and no quotes from us," Williams said. "... I just wish all this had been handled behind closed doors. This is not the way I like to operate, and I know this isn't the way that Chris likes to operate. We've communicated by text just to try to figure out where this stuff is coming from."
If by "stuff" he means smoke, then it's coming from the fire smoldering within Paul. On Monday, Williams will get a chance to put it out.