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Even prior to the official start of the 2010 NBA free agency period, there was a buzz around the New Orleans Hornets’ front office regarding one of their key players. Star guard and face of the franchise, Chris Paul, stated that he wants out of the Big Easy if the organization isn’t committed to winning. Though it is hard to believe that the executives of a club worth upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars (Forbes estimated the team to have a net worth of $272 million in 2007) aren’t committed to the success of their entity, the Hornets have still begun to make moves to please Paul.
Co-Owner Gary Chouest has opened negotiations for a transfer of ownership that would involve purchasing George Shinn’s majority share. The two owners have not yet come to terms on a final deal, but it is assumed that once the transaction is made, Chouest will be investing ample money and resources into the team that would hopefully keep Paul from flying the coup. Note, there is no timetable on the deal, and the two parties are $24 to $30 million apart in negotiations, so this could take some time.
Additionally, New Orleans hired a new General Manager, 40-year old Dell Demps, to replace Jeff Bower, who spent 15 years with the Hornets, the last five as GM. Though seemingly young, Demps already has 9 years of coaching and managerial experience, first with the NBDL, then the New York Knicks, and finally with the San Antonio Spurs as Director of Pro Personnel. Furthermore, he already has a solid rapport with head coach Monty Williams as the two were former NBA teammates. Demps said that he “could tell that something special was building within the organization,” and that “the Hornets are a great organization with a lot of positive pieces.” Hopefully Paul is on the same page as Demps, or the latter statement could lose some verity.
On July 10, the spectacle that was Carmelo Anthony’s wedding took place in New York City. Before an all star guest list and media in attendance, Chris Paul took the liberty of making a speech in which he allegedly claimed “We’ll make our own big three,” in reference to Anthony, himself, and Amar’e Stoudemire joining forces, presumably in New York. If this didn’t alarm the Hornet’s front office, I don’t know what will.
The Hornets push to placate Paul may hit a snag when it comes to their financial situation and the pressure and difficulty of signing another headliner mounts. Currently, role players such as Peja Stojakovic, Emeka Okafor and James Posey are looking at combined payouts of $33.3 million this upcoming season, and New Orleans has little room under the NBA’s luxury tax threshold. However, the emergence of rookie guards Darren Collison (76 games, 12.4 PPG, 5.7 APG) and Marcus Thornton (73 games, 14.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG) as well as positive play from Power Forward David West (81 games, 19 PPG, 7.5 RPG), may give Paul confidence that there is an elite team being built around him, and keep him at bay in the Crescent City.
The New Orleans Hornets look like they are setting sail towards future success as one of the top contenders for the championship this season. The only question is whether or not Chris Paul will captain the voyage, or if he is going to jump ship.