Remember that high school sweetheart you had? The girl who taught you that you could love and you never wanted to be apart from. Then, you got accepted to different colleges and broke up the Summer before freshman year on amicable terms because you both knew that the long distance thing would never work. During college you met the love of your life, started a family after graduation, and know your life is going exactly as it should.
But you still occasionally think about that first love.
For Oklahoma City, that first love was Chris Paul who went with the Hornets back to New Orleans. More than any single person, even Mayor Mick, I believe it is Paul who can be credited with infecting this area with the NBA bug. His humble, likable demeanor coupled with his jaw dropping ability at the point guard position proved to this market that the NBA was not the game that had become synonymous with Stephon Marbury’s “me-first” game or Ron Artest’s lunacy. He was a joy to watch on the floor, and a player the city could be proud to have as a representative off of the court. To this day, the city has to take pride that his professional infancy was played out here.
These days, Oklahoma City has the Thunder, and as a whole we are much better for the franchise swap. Our current franchise boasts another player with the superstar capability (albeit a different skill set) in Kevin Durant, but it also surrounds him with potential to build a long term dynasty. CP3′s Hornets are not in the same boat. A few poor contract choices, the issue of returning to a market that did not support the team prior to a cataclysmic event (and now could not even if they had been a strong base prior), and a struggling economy has basically mired the Hornets in a disastrous situation. They have one of the highest payrolls in the league and are, at best, a borderline playoff team.
We saw first hand how the team was attempting to get out of their economic situation when they basically gave the Thunder Tyson Chandler, one of the few true centers in the league who is not worthless. Of course, that trade was rescinded when the doctor who performed Chandler’s toe surgery while living in Oklahoma City red flagged said toe as a risk the Thunder should not take on. So, now the Hornets are looking at other ways to alleviate the salary cap problems.
That leads to news that Chris Paul seriously thinks he might be traded. He later recanted, but the author who wrote the article says the quote is on tape. And while, honestly, the Hornets would be insane to trade their franchise player, the truth is that their owner is possibly insane and cheap. With the other contracts weighing the team down being practically untradeable, they may have to deal their star out of necessity.
If they do, one team has the assets to make it happen. After the jump, find out how the Thunder could bring back their first love and create a Big Love-style pairing of CP3 and Kevin Durant.
With the possibility of giving up Chris Paul as a last resort, the Hornets would never even consider this unless they get two things in return.
Oklahoma City has the assets to get them both. The team is currently, by my calculations $9.7MM under the salary cap, and they have almost nothing except young, inexpensive players on the roster. That means they can take back more in salary than they receive, and they have players the Hornets might be interested in rebuilding with.
In this case, the Thunder can actually take back a LOT more in salary than they send out. Chris Paul is a “base year compensation” player–one of the most difficult to understand statuses of the collective bargaining agreement, so I’m not going to even try explaining except to say he will be paid $13.8MM next season, but for trade purposes, he only counts as $6.8MM in factoring in whether the trade works. So, if the team agreed to take on the last two years of Peja Stojakovic (the elite shooter with a bad injury history) who makes $14.2MM this season, the Thunder would only have to send out approximately $11MM worth of contracts back to New Orleans to make the deal work.
Any package that would get Hornets’ GM Jeff Bowers’ interest would have to be built around Russell Westbrook. As a second year player, Westbrook still has three seasons left on his rookie contract and his rookie season showed him to be a player with a lot of promise. D.J. White could be another young player tossed into the equation. Considering that the Hornets attempted to sign Brandon Bass this off season, White would probably interest them considering how similar the two players style is, and the fact that White is also (NBA) cheap the next three seasons. To make the deal work economically, Oklahoma City would also ship Damien Wilkins’ expiring contract and Chucky Atkins who could be bought out to save the Hornets another couple of million. Then, to get such an elite player like Paul, the Thunder would probably have to part with at least one first round draft pick.
For the Thunder, such a deal would make them an immediate playoff caliber team. Chris Paul is, in my opinion, the best point guard in the world. He makes every player on the team better, witnessed by him leading a weak Hornets team a two seed in the 2008 NBA playoffs. Stojakovic, too, could have a huge impact for the Thunder as one of the best shooters to ever play the game of basketball–covering a weakness I have been complaining about since I first started writing this column. With those two on board, the Thunder would boast a rotation that looked like this:
PG - Chris Paul/Shaun Livingston
SG – Thabo Sefolosha/James Harden/Kyle Weaver
SF – Kevin Durant/Peja Stojakovic
PF- Jeff Green/Nick Collison/Serge Ibaka
C - Nenad Krstic/Byron Mullens
The long term salary cap implications are not detrimental, either. Stojakovic comes off the books after next season. So while it does take the Thunder out of the 2010 Free Agent bonanza, the odds are that they would not have been big players in that market anyway. Most of the big market teams have been long term planning for next Summer for years, so the big names will be out of play for Sam Presti. Plus, Durant and Green will be in line for huge pay raises beginning in 2011, so Stojakovic’s over compensation will come off the books at the right time. Then, if he manages to stay healthy (which is possible considering he would not play starter minutes for this team) and benefit the team as the shooting specialist they need, he could be re-signed to a more reasonable deal.
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