NEW YORK – For months, rival executives’ calls to New Orleans general manager Jeff Bower on Chris Paul(notes) were met with an unmistakable response: Don’t bother. No engagement, no discussions. The Hornets' franchise star was untouchable.
This has changed now. Bower still hasn’t started to shop him, but those close to Paul believed a threshold was crossed with the mixed message from the owner’s public statement on Wednesday. Nowhere did they hear out of George Shinn’s legendarily duplicitous mouth what the Hornets had always maintained about Chris Paul: We won’t trade him.
Around the league – and now, close to Paul – they believe the Hornets' tenor has taken a dramatic transformation in recent days. They believe the Hornets have opened the bidding on the best player in franchise history. Shinn is on the way out as an owner, unmotivated to compete, and Paul is rapidly losing patience with the organization. Before Paul starts screaming that he wants out – and it’s coming, sooner than later – the Hornets seem inclined to solicit bids while they still hold some leverage in discussions.
So much of the problem here lies with the holdup of the Hornets' sale from Shinn to minority partner, Gary Chouest, who, sources say, is still trying to recruit other partners to burden the purchase price with him. Shinn is a horrible owner, full of self-righteous blather and hollow commitments to winning. The sooner he sells, the better for the NBA and pro ball in New Orleans.
Paul loves that town, but he’s tired of the mom-and-pop Hornets. The only chance they have to keep him comes with an oilman, Chouset, getting the team and keeping his promise to spend money and try to compete in the Western Conference arms race.
Paul doesn’t want to leave for just anywhere, but he’s open to several select places, sources say. As do most stars, Paul wants a contender. Still, he is welcoming trade scenarios with rebuilding big-market teams like New York and New Jersey who have the resources to reshape themselves and compete for titles. Sources say Paul was livid when his name was mentioned in talks with Memphis, but all Bower did was answer the telephone and reject an offer. No one tried to shop him there.
Bower has been open to attaching Darren Collison(notes) to one of the Hornets' bad contracts – such as Emeka Okafor(notes) – to clear salary, sources say. The first step of moving Paul will come when Bower proposes a trade that requests a team with cap space take Paul and absorb one of those bad contracts. Some officials believe Bower had made that kind of an offer to New Jersey, but Nets officials deny it.
When the possibility of the Portland Trail Blazers making a bid on Paul was brought to him, a source said, Paul’s reaction was simple: Why would I want to go there if they have to trade LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) or Brandon Roy(notes) to get me? I’d want to play with those players.
That’s the problem with trying to trade Paul. For one of the best point guards in the NBA, the Hornets would want no less than a young All-Star caliber player, a starter and draft picks. Only then, what kind of gutted core would await Paul with his new team?
Portland has bordered on tampering with Paul for two years now, and it’s never been much of a secret within the Hornets' organization that the Blazers have gone to great lengths to make Paul aware of how badly they want him. It didn’t go unnoticed when Blazers president Larry Miller – a former Nike executive who had dealings with Paul – cozied up to the Hornets star on New Orleans’ trips to the Rose Garden. It is what it is, but most agree the Blazers have been merciless in trying to get into Paul’s ear – and those around him – to convince him to create a stir and force his way out.
Nevertheless, the biggest problem for New Orleans and Paul’s own agents at Octagon remains the relentless meddling of LeBron James’(notes) childhood buddy and business manager Maverick Carter and power broker William Wesley. The NBA lets LeBron’s friends come and go as they please in multiple team matters that don’t involve them, and they’re never held accountable for whatever complications they create. James’ camp can decry Jalen Rose’s proclamation that James is out of Cleveland, but no one is privately pushing that agenda harder to people than World Wide Wes.
They’re all buddies with Chris Paul, and they all want a piece of his representation. Wes has shopped Paul to teams, and he’ll continue to do it. That’s how it goes now, and that’s the world the mom-and-pop Hornets are living with now. Yes, the Hornets owner issued a statement on Wednesday that had some beautiful thoughts about Chris Paul, but everyone – including Paul’s own people – noticed what was missing: An assurance he wouldn’t trade him.
Even Bower says he’ll evaluate all offers, and those who made calls into New Orleans on Wednesday say that bids for the franchise point guard weren’t immediately rejected, but rather put on the big board in the Hornets' facility. Chris Paul is still the face of the franchise, still the biggest star in Hornets history. Just understand this: He’s no longer untouchable.