Trading For A Core Player: Chris Paul

Trading For A Core Player: Chris Paul

For a while now, Hornets point guard Chris Paul has reportedly wanted out of New Orleans. There have been at least a half-dozen rumors connecting him to different teams, including the Knicks, Lakers, Magic, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Bobcats, and the Nets. Ryan Schwan of Hornets 24/7 played GM for a recent article, one in which he took offers from other TrueHoop team writers for Chris Paul and sorted through the potential options from worst to best. I had an opportunity to construct an offer for him, but I decided against it for a reason that may actually shock you: I don’t think the Nets should seriously pursue him.

This is no knock on Chris Paul the basketball player. There’s not much to say about him that hasn’t been said already, but for our relatively green readers: when Chris Paul is healthy, he’s the best point guard in the world. Save some Deron Williams die-hards – who have a legitimate argument – nobody questions that. He can score from everywhere on the floor, his court vision is unbelievable, his lateral quickness and hands are among the best in the league, and in the past couple of years he’s begun to develop a three-point shot. He had started to become virtually unstoppable. He’s also one of my favorite players ever – I love his tenacity and indomitable will to stay on the basketball court, which has even reduced him to pleading.

2007-2008: 20.2 PTS, 11.1 AST, 3.8 REB, 2.6 STL, 2.4 TOV, .576 TS%, 28.3 PER, 125 points produced per 100 possessions
2008-2009: 21.4 PTS, 10.3 AST, 5.2 REB, 2.6 STL, 2.8 TOV, .599 TS%, 30.0 PER, 124 points produced per 100 possessions

I don’t know if showing the numbers truly explains just how impressive they actually are. If you adjust his production for context, in a purely statistical sense this is the best two-year run by a point guard in NBA history. Ever. Statistically better than Magic, better than Oscar, better than Stockton, Kidd, or Isaiah. While advanced statistics only tell part of the story, there’s no doubt that Chris Paul was on track to be one of the greatest point guards to ever call a play on hardwood.

I know I’ve been gushing over Chris Paul’s ability, which seems weird after saying that I don’t want the Nets to attempt to acquire him. I have four reasons for this. Firstly, that Chris Paul may not exist anymore.  If you’ve noticed, I’ve been using the past tense to discuss Chris Paul. This is because (as many of you know) Paul recently underwent knee surgery, where his meniscus was completely removed rather than repaired. If you’ve been made aware of that, you’ve also probably been directed to Will Leitch‘s article on meniscus removal. The key part, now famous thanks to Bill Simmons’s trade value column, is as follows:

“Surgeons don’t repair the meniscus in most cases; they just take it out, either in part or in whole depending on the size of the tearing. That leaves the athlete with no shock. Eventually, with the remaining meniscus overstressed and aging, they end up with the bones grinding together. Yes, that’s as bad as it sounds in a game of running and jumping.”

For a guard that relies as much on his lateral quickness as he does, it’s a huge, huge red flag. Is it possible that Paul doesn’t feel any ill effects from the surgery, that he’s just one of those genetic freaks that can come back and perform at the same level or better? Sure. Would it be worth the risk to find out? I don’t think so, and I hope the Nets don’t, either.

Secondly, the Nets don’t really have an offer that the Hornets would accept. Take a look at the realistic offers that were given to Schwan. Monroe, Daye, Stuckey, Prince, Wilcox, and three picks? Carter, Nelson, Gortat, Bass/Anderson, and two picks? Holiday, Iguodala, Speights, Kapono, and Young? Parker, Splitter, McDyess, and two picks? Oden, Przybilla, Miller, Fernandez, and Bayless? I know that as a Nets writer (and fan) I have the tendency to overrate my own players, and I still don’t think that a deal of Harris/Humphries/Lee-TWill/picks can compete with those. Couple that with the reports that the Nets consider Derrick Favors a keeper, rather than a chip (shameless plug: keep an eye out for my second video analysis dissecting Derrick Favors’s offensive potential next week), and the chances of acquiring Paul begin dwindling quickly.

Thirdly, he’s most likely a two-year rental. Say the miracle happens, and the Nets find a way to acquire Chris Paul. Then what? He’s under contract until 2012, and after that I highly doubt he would end up re-signing with the Nets. New Orleans has showered him with love and praise his entire career and he still wants out. The Nets are fresh off a seventy-loss season and while the team has a bright future a championship in two years seems unlikely, especially if some combination of Terrence Williams, Derrick Favors, or Courtney Lee goes the other way. The Nets can’t expect that he’ll stick around after two years, and if he bolts they’re left with nothing to show for the deal. It doesn’t make sense to mortgage the future for an impressive but likely non-contending present.

Which leads into my fourth and final point… He doesn’t turn the Nets into a championship contender. The five-year plan has been laid out clearly by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and adding Chris Paul doesn’t move the Nets into championship contention in that five-year frame. Even if he’s playing at his top level, a Paul+Lee+Outlaw+Favors+Lopez (or Okafor, depending on if we’re forced to take his salary on in a deal) is a great team, but it isn’t going to compete with the Heat, Magic, Lakers, or Celtics in 2011 or 2012. As mentioned earlier, we’ll go through two years of playing pretty good basketball until Paul leaves us for greener pastures. It just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Truth be told, the only way I’d want the Nets to do a Chris Paul deal is if they accept much less than most other teams seemingly want to offer. The deal outlined at the beginning of this article is one potential offer, and is what I’d consider the starting point for any deal the Nets may do – adding Quinton Ross, taking on Okafor’s contract, throwing picks into the deal, or switching out Williams with Lee are some other possibilities.

That deal is, of course, well below Paul’s perceived market value. But considering the potential risks and rewards that are involved, I would hope the Nets go above and beyond when doing their due diligence. Unless the Hornets essentially give him to New Jersey, I don’t see the Nets taking the plunge – and while it may sting to hear, it may be for the best.