Note: This could end up being one of the craziest months in NBA history. To celebrate the signings, trades, rumors, roster shuffling, insanity and (almost definitely) ensuing hilarity/incompetence, I have unleashed a special series called “The 12 Days of NBA Christmas.” Every weekday through December 19 (give or take a day), I will be writing about this unexpected NBA Christmas.
Day 1: The Road to Groundhog Day (and more dumb contracts than ever)
Day 2: The Donut Dilemma (the bubble in the center market)
Day 3: Is Arron Afflalo really worth $50 million?
Day 4 (12/7): Where the hell is Chris Paul going?
After I cranked out 10,200 words for the first three installments of my “12 Days of NBA Christmas,” my editor, Philbrick, e-mailed me an intervention and reminded me that (a) it’s nearly impossible to write 40,000 words in half a month, (b) I get violently sick at least once every winter, anyway, and (c) the combination of these two realities could lead to me single-handedly creating a a new strain of the Swine Flu that they’d end up calling “The Grantland Swine Flu.” Considering I’m already coughing up oysters and wrote “Ray Felton” in yesterday’s column when I meant “Ty Lawson,” he’s probably right. That’s why we’re keeping today’s installment shorter than the other ones and writing it blog style, if only to prevent the filming of Contagion II.
All right, let’s talk about Chris Paul
By all accounts, New Orleans is going to trade him within the next few days. We always make fun of GMs and owners in this space, so I’m happy to praise one for a change: Hornets GM Dell Demps is playing this one perfectly. Why allow the “Where is CP3 going?” media-fueled drama to ruin your whole season? Why not shop him right now, before any free agents are signed, as the contenders are still shaping their teams? Isn’t right now your best chance to get 90 cents on the dollar for someone who’s leaving in seven months — repeat: for someone who’s leaving in seven months — and before any (or all) of your potential suitors make a move?
It’s hard to take every “report” seriously because we’re currently living in a world in which people spent an entire day on ESPN arguing about whether or not the Lakers could get Chris Paul AND Dwight Howard. Wait, they’d have to give up Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum for Howard (and Hedo Turkoglu’s contract),1 and they’d have to give up Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Paul (and Emeka Okafor). Did you notice that Andrew Bynum was in both scenarios? This is why it’s impossible for them to get Howard AND Paul (no matter how many ESPN shows are pretending we can). There’s this little-known NBA rule that you can’t put the same player in two separate trades. Please, everyone at ESPN, stop talking about this. I’m begging you.
Back to Chris Paul. Here’s what we know through published reports, scuttlebutt, pure logic and even a few of my little birdies (yup, sources say I have sources)
1. New Orleans wants to trade him within the next few days.
2. Paul will sign an extension only if he’s happy with the team that acquires him; he doesn’t want his new team to gut its roster to get him.
3. Paul would love it if the new team also signed Tyson Chandler (his old teammate).
4. Boston, Golden State, New York, the Lakers and the Clippers are chasing him. Those are the teams we know for sure.
5. Houston is chasing him but even if the Rockets offer Kevin Martin, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Williams, Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn and two no. 1 picks for Paul and Okafor, why would New Orleans do that? I’m crossing them off. You’re not getting Chris Paul (a two-dollar bill) for some quarters and dimes (everything Houston is offering).
6. I didn’t want to rule out Dallas because the Mavs could re-sign Chandler and try to get creative — or so I thought — but when I tried to get creative for them with the Trade Machine, it became clear pretty quickly that they don’t have the assets. They’re out.2
7. We should add Oklahoma City because Paul played there when the Hornets temporarily relocated because of Hurricane Katrina, and because it has a natural trading partner for him (Russell Westbrook).
8. Minnesota can offer the best package (Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams), but there’s no way Chris Paul is signing an extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves. For old time’s sake KAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
9. We can safely cross off the Knicks because a “Chauncey Billups, Landry Fields, Ronny Turiaf and Toney Douglas for Paul and Trevor Ariza” deal isn’t exactly knocking Dell Demps’ socks off. What’s sad is that I’ve had to repeatedly explain this to every Knicks fan I know. And they’re still in denial.
10. We’re not supposed to talk about Chris Paul’s pseudo-bum knee, or the fact that he played much of last season on cruise control to protect that knee before cranking it up for a few games in the playoffs, because it’s a lot less fun to make up fake trades if you have to mention that the principal of those trades might be playing on one leg in two years.
All right, so what could the Hornets actually get for Chris Paul? Here are the five most logical scenarios, in order from “kinda logical” to “totally logical.”
The Trade: Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook and cap fodder (Cole Aldrich, B.J. Mullens and Nate Robinson’s expiring deal).
The Verdict: New Orleans says yes; Oklahoma City says no; Chris Paul probably says, “I loved my time in Oklahoma City, but I’d rather live in a big city, thanks anyway.” Besides, the Zombies can’t give up on the Westbrook/Durant partnership yet, even if there’s mounting evidence that Westbrook has real bitterness about becoming the public fall guy during last spring’s loss to Dallas. I continue to think we might be headed for an Avon/Stringer situation here but both guys are so talented that you need one more year (and maybe a different coach) before you pick one over the other. (And by the way, the Zombies are picking Durant.)
The Trade: Chris Paul for Rondo, Jeff Green (sign-and-trade) and possibly one or two no. 1 picks.
The Verdict: No way. Why would you want to overpay Jeff Green if you’re New Orleans? Why not just re-sign David West? How do we know Green even wants to play there? And if you’re New Orleans, wouldn’t you rather have Stephen Curry, anyway? For the record, Paul makes $16.359 million this season and Rondo makes $10.045 million; the Celtics have only six players under contract and, unless Green were involved, could include only Jermaine O’Neal ($6.226 million, expiring this season) to make the Paul/Rondo swap work unless they wanted to get creative, use their amnesty on Kevin Garnett (knocking $21.2 million off their cap), then trade Rondo and O’Neal for Paul and Okafor. See? This is absurd. The Celtics aren’t getting Chris Paul.
Quick Tangent: As a Celtics fan, I’m horrified by how they are handling this — publicly, they’re saying they aren’t shopping Rondo, and privately they’re dangling Rondo to New Orleans and EVERYONE KNOWS THIS. Seriously, what are the odds they can pull that trade off? 20-to-1? That’s worth putting Rondo in a funk for the entire 2011-12 season? Remember, this is the same guy who went into a shooting tailspin after one harmless Obama joke.3 And by the way, didn’t Rondo take less money to stay last season? That doesn’t matter at all? Really, it’s all business all the time? That’s the best way to run a basketball team?
In general, it feels like the Celtics organization has lost touch with what made that team special — the chemistry between their best guys and their coach — starting with Ray Allen getting shopped for two straight trade deadlines, continuing with last February’s brutally cold Perkins trade, then cresting with this Rondo debacle. Why would any Celtic feel safe at this point? How can Doc Rivers preach “ubuntu” with a straight face after the past two years? Does ubuntu mean, “Togetherness unless we’re trying to trade you?”
Hey Danny? If you really want to blow this up, then have the balls to actually do it — use your amnesty on Garnett (who’s never making it through that inhumane 66-game schedule they released yesterday, much less nine weeks of playoff games with one day’s rest between each game), try to sign Tyson Chandler, then try to trade Rondo, O’Neal’s contract, two no. 1 picks and $3 million for Paul, and hope that Paul and Chandler say, “Cool, let’s play in Boston together!” Sure, you’d be taking a mammoth shit on Garnett — the guy who made basketball relevant in Boston again — but at this point, what’s the difference? You shit on Perkins last February and you’re shitting on Rondo now. Why not add KG to the list? Either way, the Celtics made their bed here: Chris Paul or no Chris Paul, they’re probably going to have to trade Rondo this season just because they handled the entire year so poorly. If you were Rondo, would you want to remain with this franchise? I sure wouldn’t.
The Trade: Chris Paul for DeAndre Jordan (extend-and-trade), Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Minnesota’s unprotected no. 1 pick in 2012.
Additional Notes: There’s a chance the Clips could sign Tyson Chandler (either with their extra cap space, or by dealing Chris Kaman to acquire that cap space) to reunite Paul and Chandler. Also, I’m proud of the Clips for refusing to include Eric Gordon (at least so far) in the discussions. (Something I worried about in a footnote of Day 3’s column.) Their goal should be to end up with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon and figure out everything else later. By the way, the thought of having season tickets for multiple years of Paul/Griffin alley-oops just made me soil myself. I pray to everything that’s holy that this trade happens.
The Verdict: The Jordan piece worries me. What if he doesn’t want New Orleans? What if he wants to stay with the Clips? What if some other team offers him crazy money ($50 million or more)? It’s too shaky of a variable. Then again, would Bledsoe, Aminu, Minny’s no. 1 pick and a second no. 1 pick be enough to steal Paul? It’s possible, right? I’m as amazed as you are — there’s a legitimate chance that the Los Angeles Clippers could get Chris Paul.
(Hold on, I have to change my pants.)
(Couple more seconds.)
(And we’re back.)
One Other Variable That Scares Me: Everyone keeps forgetting that the NBA still owns the Hornets. I know the league gave Demps the authority to make every move, but still if you’re David Stern and Adam Silver, are you that excited about building a possible juggernaut for the Clippers, the same franchise that’s owned by the single most loathsome NBA owner of the past 30 years (and someone who wasn’t exactly pro-Stern during the lockout)? Do you really want Donald Sterling to own one of your signature teams? Wouldn’t you rather steer Paul toward the Lakers or Warriors?
(You’re right, I’m probably overthinking this. Please tell me I’m overthinking this.)
The Trade: Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor for Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Steve Blake and Derrick Caracter.
Additional Notes: I’m not sure the Hornets would keep Odom here — they could spin him to, say, the Clippers (for Aminu and Ryan Gomes) or Minnesota (for Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph).
The Verdict: As a full-fledged Lakers hater, this one sends chills down my spine. The Hornets save $7 million this season, rebuild around Bynum (good luck with that) and dump the last three years of their Okafor/Ariza deals ($62.7 million). The Lakers get a true center back (Okafor, an underrated double-double guy who can protect the rim), a defensive swingman who knows how to play with Kobe (Ariza), and one of the biggest point guard upgrades in basketball history (going from Steve Blake and Derek Fisher to Chris Paul). They’re reinventing their team AND making it better. Yikes.
If I’m The Lakers, Here’s My Biggest Concern: We can’t get Howard AND Paul. Is getting Paul a better course than getting Howard? My answer: Yes. Getting Howard requires a Bynum/Gasol package; getting Paul means you keep Gasol, which means you’d have three of the best 15 players in basketball (Kobe, Gasol, Paul) and some competent rotation guys (Okafor, Ariza, Fisher, Metta World Peace and Free Agent X). That’s a no-brainer in my mind. I’d have a better chance of winning with Kobe, Gasol, Paul, Okafor and Ariza than Kobe, Howard, Odom and Turkoglu — not just this season, but the next two after that.
If I’m The Hornets, Here’s My Biggest Concern: Do I really want to rebuild my entire team around Andrew Bynum, someone who missed an extraordinary number of games already, might be headed for more knee problems down the road, and seems to have the emotional maturity of a Real World roommate? Am I the only one who remembers him clotheslining little J.J. Barea last spring, then storming off half-naked? That’s going to be my signature guy for the rest of the decade? Really?
(I gotta say if I’m running the Hornets, I’d rather go with this next one )
The Trade: Chris Paul for Stephen Curry, Ekpe Udoh and Klay Thompson.
Additional Notes: For Paul to agree, Golden State would have to use its amnesty on Andris Biedrins and sign Tyson Chandler for whatever it takes. That’s a ton of money, but Golden State’s new owners (Joe Lacob and Peter Guber) are your classic “I just bought an NBA team! I want to win now! Why can’t we win now???? Let’s win now!” guys. I know our pal Marc Stein reported this afternoon that the Warriors are hesitating to include Curry in any Paul deal, but couldn’t that just be posturing? I think those owners would make all of the aforementioned moves (and spend the additional millions it took) without blinking.
When I spent time with Lacob last March at the Sloan Conference, I was stunned by how adamantly he wanted to win right away — part of it was admirable, part of it made me think, Oh, man, all bets are off for this guy from a Dumb Trade/Dumb Contract standpoint. The good news here: Turning Curry, Udoh, Thompson and $27 million of dead Biedrins money into the league’s best point guard and the second-best player on last year’s NBA champion isn’t dumb.
The Verdict: This trade actually works AND makes sense. New Orleans flips Paul into three cheap pieces, saves $8 million, rebuilds around Curry and still has about $21 million to spend on free agents. Let’s say the Hornets re-signed David West and used their extra cap space on a rebounder (say, Kris Humphries) and a one-year bid on an amnesty guy (say, Baron Davis). That’s a pretty fascinating team, right? Curry, West, Okafor, Humphries, Thompson, Trevor Ariza, Jarret Jack, Udoh and Baron Davis??? Meanwhile, Golden State ends up with a nucleus of Paul, Chandler, David Lee and either Monta Ellis or whomever they get in a deal for Monta Ellis. (Andre Iguodala? Rudy Gay?) As Jack Horner’s editor would say, that’s a real team, Jack.
My Final Prediction: Chris Paul to Golden State for Curry, Udoh and Thompson, followed by Golden State using its amnesty on Biedrins and signing Chandler. Welcome to relevancy, Warriors fans. You deserve it.
(PS: Sorry, Philbrick, I have no idea how this ended up topping 2,700 words. I promise to take Day 5 of the “12 Days of NBA Christmas” off unless something HUGE happens. Like, really, really huge. Like Paul or Howard getting traded, or Rondo deciding to turn against his country like Tom Walker did in Homeland. In the meantime, let’s warn the Centers for Disease Control about the Grantland Swine Flu ahead of time just to be safe.)
Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.
Previously from Bill Simmons: