Hornets’ Paul draws interest as draft nears

As the July 1 start of free agency pushes closer, powerbroker William Wesley has been working multiple angles to NBA front offices about possible trades and signings. Here’s his latest: World Wide Wes has been pitching teams with salary-cap space that trading for New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul(notes) will dramatically increase their chances of signing LeBron James(notes), multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.

New Orleans general manager Jeff Bower has no intention of trading Paul, but multiple league executives believe that until owner George Shinn closes on the team’s sale with billionaire oilman Gary Chouest, there is a price with which Paul could be pried away.

Chris Paul played in only 45 games last season because of ankle and knee injuries.
(NBAE/ Getty Images)

“He can be had with Shinn in there, but once the new guy takes over, he’s off the market,” one senior front-office executive told Y! Sports.

Can Wesley deliver Paul? Extremely doubtful, but that hasn’t stopped his sales pitch to teams, league sources said. First of all, Paul hasn’t requested a trade out of New Orleans, so the franchise isn’t under pressure to move him. He has two years and $31.3 million left on his contract until he can opt out before the 2012-13 season.

Privately, Paul has been displeased with Shinn’s constant cost-cutting measures, but has been optimistic about new ownership’s stated desire to spend more and try to compete in the powerful Western Conference. What’s more, Paul is loyal and values his connection to his Hornets teammates and the New Orleans community.

Bower hasn’t made calls offering Paul, sources said, nor do the Hornets plan to initiate conversations on him. New Orleans has received a steady stream of inquires on Paul, but Bower and Chouset have no interest in moving him. Still, rival executives believe Shinn’s willingness to rid payroll should the sales transaction continue to stall is his major motivator in even considering a possible trade of his franchise point guard.

James is close friends with Paul, and the Cavs star even flew to Winston-Salem, N.C., shortly after Cleveland’s Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Boston Celtics to attend a birthday party for Paul’s son. James was joined by his business manager, Maverick Carter, who has been trying to pilfer Paul from Octagon, which represents Paul. James’ marketing company, LRMR, has wanted Paul to invest in the business and become some kind of partner, sources said.

Why would World Wide Wes want to help broker a deal for Paul? Here are two reasons: First, James loves the prospect of playing with one of the best point guards in the NBA. Secondly, it would show Paul how Wesley could make things happen for him, and perhaps get him to leave Octagon for Wesley and Leon Rose at CAA.

The Memphis Grizzlies offered O.J. Mayo(notes) as part of a package for Paul recently, but talks went nowhere. League sources believe the New Jersey Nets are willing to part with the No. 3 pick and every player on their roster except for center Brook Lopez(notes) to obtain Paul. Also, the Portland Trail Blazers – who’ve long targeted Paul – are expected make a bid for Paul prior to the draft, a source said.

The San Antonio Spurs once had a chance to be frontrunners for Paul – if New Orleans ever felt compelled to make a trade – because they could offer an All-Star caliber point guard in Tony Parker(notes). Nevertheless, the emergence of Darren Collison(notes) allows the Hornets to make a trade without taking back a point guard. Now, New Orleans could possibly improve itself at two positions – perhaps shooting guard and small forward – and get draft picks.

It’s hard to imagine the Hornets agreeing to move their franchise star for much, if anything, short of an All-Star, a starter and a high draft pick.

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jun 21, 2010