As has been made abundantly clear over the last few weeks, the New Orleans Hornets are in a tough spot. Most reports have Chris Paul with one foot out the door — a colossally bad omen for the franchise in virtually every sense. Paul is the Hornets’ livelihood. He is the team’s leader, its star player, and the one foundational piece on the roster. He’s an All-World talent, and due to a variety of factors, his time in New Orleans may be coming to a close.
New York is reportedly Paul’s preferred destination, although he openly acknowledges the difficulties in wanting to be traded there. Still, a column from David Aldridge of NBA.com paints the Hornets’ front office as a place of sobering realism; they seemed to have embraced the possibility that Paul may leave, and are exploring any options that will allow the franchise to move on following his possible departure:
The Hornets are going into this with eyes wide open. They know that Paul spent much of the summer in New York at lockout meetings — and also with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. They know that even if he can’t get as big a salary from the Knicks as with other teams, it’s likely his representatives have all manner of endorsements at the ready in New York that would make up the difference. They believe he’d prefer going to a team where he doesn’t have to be “the man,” and that the Knicks would be just that, with Anthony and All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire willing and able to take the spotlight and the heat that come with it.
Aldridge’s full column is worth a read, primarily for the display of pragmatism shown in the Hornets’ front office. These are difficult times for that franchise, but refusing to fall into denial over their prospects of keeping Paul could pay off in some form.
Then again, I couldn’t help but read the above section without notice of the rhetoric that, if you’ll notice, comes straight from Hornets sources. The basketball world has a quick, visceral response to players who shrink from their responsibilities as “the man.” LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh received rampant criticism last summer when they decided to team up, as some analysts (and more often, pseudo-analysts) took issue with the Heat’s diffusion of responsibility. Being a franchise player is a sacred duty in the NBA, and declaring a certain player — especially one of Paul’s stature — as unworthy by deficiency or by personality is a heavy claim.
In all likelihood, this is a sincere message from the Hornets that they believe Paul would be happiest playing with other stars. That much is the truth, after all. However, in an age where media control is so important, I wouldn’t completely disregard the possibility of the Hornets appealing to Paul’s sense of pride with Aldridge’s column as the medium.