NEW YORK -- The matchmaker, Chris Paul, was back in town Wednesday night to visit the star-studded couple he helped bring together. There was no toast this time, but rather a roast at the expense of Paul's team, the New Orleans Hornets.
A couple of weeks ago, Paul said of the NBA's trend of superstars teaming up, "This league is getting dangerous." Things have gotten treacherous, indeed, for Paul, whose team lost for the 12th time in 16 games in an embarrassing, non-competitive 107-88 loss to the Knicks.
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Afterward, Hornets coach Monty Williams stood in the hallway outside the visiting locker room and spoke about how he saw fear in the eyes of his players. He wasn't talking about Paul, who is never afraid, but nonetheless came out on the short end of his matchup with Knicks backup Toney Douglas. For those who have lost track of where all the stars are playing these days, Douglas is not one of them. Yet he dropped 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting on Paul, who was 2 for 7 for four points -- his second successive single-digit scoring game and third in five games.
"I saw fear in some of the guys on our team tonight," Williams said." ... I'm not going to tolerate guys not playing with passion and guys playing afraid."
With speculation building that the surgically repaired meniscus in Paul's left knee might have stolen the electrifying burst that made him who he is -- or was -- Paul said emphatically Wednesday night that there's nothing wrong with him physically. The naked eye, which for the first time in a long time can actually track Paul's movements with the ball in his hands, tells a different story.
"I'm good," Paul said. "My knee feels better than it has at any other point. That's the crazy thing about it. My body's great. I feel like I can go by a guy more than ever before."
Not Wednesday night. Not in a while.
But the issue du jour with Paul, unsurprisingly given his surroundings, was not where he's headed on the floor but as a free agent in 2012. Two-thirds of the Big Three that Paul toasted at Carmelo Anthony's July wedding has now united in New York, and it would seem to be only a matter of time before the man who raised his glass to the idea joins them.
"People who know me know that I'm fully invested in anything that I'm a part of, and one thing is New Orleans and our team," Paul said. "I have the ultimate faith in our team and what we're capable of. We're just not doing it right now. That's a long time from now, free agency."
Tell that to the Knicks fans who broke into chants of, "We want Paul!" and "CP3!" during Roger Mason Jr. time, aka garbage time, of the Knicks' blowout victory.
"I didn't even hear that, man," Paul said. "I was looking at the scoreboard trying to see what I could do to turn that around. If they said it, it's an honor. But I'm more focused on trying to help us win."
The long, inexorable march to the next great free-agent class was supposed to begin after the trade deadline with Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams co-starring in the Drama Not Named Melo. The Jazz snuffed out one-third of that trio by trading Williams to the Nets, leaving D-Will to figure out how to force a team to trade him within a year of giving up a massive amount of assets to get him. So it is Paul and Howard now, the best little man and best big man in the game, trying to figure out if the free-agent music will still be playing for them after the labor unrest arrives.
"D-Will's like a brother to me," Paul said. "I know how much he had invested in Utah and I'm sure he didn't expect it. But at the end of the day, everyone was surprised. Weren't y'all? It helps you remember that this is a business. In the NBA, anybody can go."
How this works out for Paul is a long way off, and the Hornets clearly have more pressing issues. On Jan. 29, the Hornets were 31-16 and had won 10 consecutive games. Since then, they're 4-12. They can't stop anybody, and their little magician suspiciously cannot do what he does best.
"Nobody fears us right now," Paul said.
Paul said that as a basketball fan, he watched the trade-deadline coverage with interest, to see where some of his friends and foes were headed. The league has gotten dangerous, all right, and the Hornets stared into the eyes of another fearsome creation -- one that Paul predicted with a raised champagne glass in July -- and realized they didn't measure up.
"I think these teams are going to do what they can within the rules," Williams said. "It's not illegal, but it certainly is hard to play against those teams that have All-Stars like Carmelo and [Amar'e] Stoudemire or what they have going on down in Miami. But that doesn't bother me. We've proven we can beat Miami. We did it this year already. We beat San Antonio. We beat Orlando. To me, it's not a big deal."
Until he becomes the next coach sifting through the leftovers after his superstar departs for greener, bigger-market pastures.