Do The Knicks Realistically Have A Shot At Chris Paul?


The last 24 hours have been swamped with intrigue over the news Chris Paul supposedly asked his team the New Orleans’ Hornets to trade him. Much like with Chris Bosh rumors earlier this summer, there apparently is even a list of potential places. New York is reputed to be on the list as well as the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic and Portland Trailblazers. There are differing reports as to whether or not the Lakers are also on the list. So let’s look at this in two parts. First, how do the Knicks chances stack up compared to the other teams on the list? Second, with the Hornets set to meet with Paul on Monday, what’re the chances he even gets traded shortly. Note that the emphasis is on shortly because the rumor is he wants to be traded before the season begins. Down the road there are too many variables (new ownership, how the team does, future possible trades, Paul’s chemistry with the new coach and GM, etc.) to know how long things could last if New Orleans convinces CP3 to give ’em one last chance.

Also, before we get into it, let’s set some things straight. Some fans and pundits have ripped Donnie Walsh for striking out with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and “only” getting Amar’e Stoudemire. Let’s be honest: if Amar’e wasn’t on the team, no way Paul even lists the Knicks. I’ve heard others argue we should’ve kept Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford & David Lee, and while that might’ve kept us as a 6-8 seed in the East these last few years, that ain’t a team that’s gonna excite a Chris Paul either. So let’s give some due first to Walsh for creating an excitement about the team that hasn’t been here since the days of Van Gundy.

Knicks, Mavs, Magic, Trailblazers or Lakers?

If the Hornets are gonna trade Chris Paul, they’re gonna be looking for two things in return: young talent and salary relief. The Knicks have both with Anthony Randolph, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari filling the “young talent” slot, and Eddy Curry’s large expiring body, I mean, contract, serving the other need. In order to get this salary relief, the Hornets will be hoping to package Paul with Emeka Okafor’s remaining 4 years at over $50 million. Which means, for those dreaming of a run at Carmelo Anthony to get our own dream threesome, we would not have the salary cap space available. And the Nuggets would have no desire to trade him for Okafor.

First off, you can cross the Mavs off the list. While they can offer two expiring contracts in Caron Butler and former Hornet Tyson Chandler, they’re not great in the young stud department. Roddy Beaubois has shown some potential, but after a no-show at Summer League where he was outplayed by the undrafted Jeremy Lin, his star ain’t shining too bright. Plus they’re a division rival, and teams are often hesitant to trade a top player to a division rival ‘cuz they don’t want their former guy inflicting regular torture on them. In fact, that also hurts all the West Coast teams in general as they’d have to play against Paul 3-4 times a year, versus only twice if he went East. So that gives the two east coast teams of the Knicks and Magic an edge there.

Speaking of the Magic, although they reportedly pushed hard for a Chris Paul trade earlier this summer, they don’t really have a great package to offer. They have no expiring contracts (UPDATE: my bad, I didn’t notice Vince Carter’s contract has a team option, so he’s basically an $18 million expiring contract), nor any young blood. Their reported trade centered around their point guard, Jameer Nelson, but that’s a tough sell to the fans: we traded our star for someone who plays the exact same position but who is worse and isn’t any younger.

The Trailblazers also supposedly nearly had a deal done for CP3 that involved Portland offering up Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless, which makes as little sense for New Orleans as the potential Orlando deal above. The Blazers do have the expiring contract of Joel Pryzbilla (although it’s only a $7+ million contract, so they wouldn’t get as much relief as with a Curry trade.  UPDATE #2: again, my bad, same thing.  Andre Miller has a team option for his last year so he’s basically nearly an $8 million expiring contract). Some might consider Bayless to be young intriguing talent, but after two years of him only being able to break into the rotation when others get injured, he no longer seems to have the potential he once did. Likewise with all these point guard trades, the Hornets already have a young promising one in Darren Collison, so they’re unlikely to look to receive one in a trade. The Blazers true intriguing young gun would of course be Greg Oden, but with his already exhaustive injury history, that’s a big risk to swallow.

Lastly, the Lakers, if they are indeed on the list, have the small expiring contract of Sasha Vujacic ($5+ million) and an intriguing young in Andrew Bynum. Of course like with Oden, Andrew’s injury history is a major concern. Plus, coming at it from the Lakers’ point-of-view, I’m not sure that owner Jerry Buss would want to make the deal. He’s shown a hesitancy to increase payroll (as viewed by tough contract renegotiations for less money for both Derek Fisher and coach Phil Jackson). And since they just won it all, I’m not sure there’s much incentive for him to try to make a major change. One could also argue that one of the Lakers’ biggest advantages is well, their bigs. The trio of Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom is what has caused issues for the Celtics and Magic in the last two finals, and it would be the one area that they’d far outclass the new Miami powerhouse. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem might be able to deal with a Gasol and Odom combo.

To sum up, if indeed the Hornets decide to trade Paul to one of the teams on his list, the Knicks likely have the most intriguing package. That’s something you haven’t been able to say in a while.

Will The Hornets Even Do A Trade?

This is the far tougher question to answer. In their meeting with Paul on Monday, not only will they hope to sell him on their new coach and new GM, but also that things will be better in the future. After they’ve spent the last two seasons giving away pieces like Rasual Butler for nothing solely to get under the luxury tax, Paul is justifiably upset that the team hasn’t been trying to build a winner around him.

The team will try to counter with the facts that next summer the awful contracts of Peja Stojakovic and Darius Songalia will come off the books, giving them an extra $20 million in salary space. If Chris Paul is smart, he’ll also notice that David West has a player option which he’s unlikely to go for since it’d only pay him about $7.5 million for the 2011-2012 season. With teams like the Knicks and Nets having cap space available next summer, West is sure to get higher offers if he tests out free agency. So for New Orleans to retain his services, they can expect to have to offer a starting salary of at least say $11 million. Likewise, Marcus Thornton, a second-round rookie sensation this past season, will also be up for a new contract. Even if he doesn’t make a huge leap in improvement this year, expect his sub-million salary to go up to at least $3 million a year if not significantly more. That means the team’s salary will be around $51 million at least, so even if the cap ends up at $58 million, it only leaves the Hornets with $7 million to sign a free-agent. Which isn’t much more than the salary cap exception they have this year. So their best shot at improving would be to use Peja’s expiring contract in a trade during this season. That, and a possible new owner, are really the only things they have to sell Paul that things will get better.

However, since he is under contract for two more years, the Hornets don’t necessarily even need to sell him anything. They can just not trade him and hope he changes his tune. Which is the way to go, if they’re smart. Paul seems like a good guy and not the type who’ll mope or sabotage the team if he’s not traded. He’ll play hard no matter what. And maybe in the meantime the team can pull a Pau-Gasol-type trade that’ll convince him to stay (much like how that trade convinced Kobe to not only rescind his trade demand but to thank the Gods above).

Also, now that news of this possible trade demand is out, the Hornets would be trading from a point of weakness. Bad enough that whenever you give away a superstar you’re likely to at best get 90 cents back on the dollar. Now, knowing the Hornets are in a bit of a bind, a team like the Knicks, rather than us throw in all our chits (Gallo, Anthony Randolph and Curry), we’re more likely to first see if we can get away with just a straight-up Curry-for-Paul trade. Or just Randolph for Paul. But unless we’re convinced that the Hornets have a better offer on the table (and none of the above were better), we’re not gonna go all in.

In the end, I expect New Orleans to smooth things over with Paul and that if he gets traded, it won’t be until some point during the season at the earliest. The good thing though is that if he does get traded before then, we seem to be in the best position to snag him.