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Halo 08-11-2010 09:31 PM

New Orleans Hornets choose Paul-or-nothing with trades
NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans Hornets general manager Dell Demps has decided he has a better chance of winning a championship with Chris Paul than without him. Good decision.

Sure it’s a little more complicated than that because Paul spent the early part of this summer letting it be known that he believed his best chance of winning a championship was somewhere other than New Orleans and he’d prefer to go elsewhere.

But Paul can’t opt out of his contract for two more seasons, so Demps knows he has time to convince Paul that the championship he craves can be won in New Orleans.

When Demps met Paul for the first time in an air-clearing meeting a couple of weeks ago, I think the GM told the All-Star point guard to give him a chance to show the Hornets can and will build a championship contender sooner rather than later. He convinced Paul to give rookie coach Monty Williams a chance to prove he’s someone Paul will want to play for long term.

On Wednesday, Demps backed up the words of two weeks ago with actions. No, the arrival of Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinelli won’t cause Paul to call Demps and say, “I’m sold. We’re on our way. Where do I re-up?”

But the trades – Darren Collison and James Posey to Indiana for Trevor Ariza in a four-team deal and Julian Wright to Toronto for Belinelli – should give Demps some credibility.

First, by trading away the player who would replace Paul if Paul were dealt (Collison), Demps is telling the world that Paul isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

By acquiring Ariza and dealing Posey, Demps is saying “we’re getting younger because we plan to have the pieces in place to compete for a championship throughout Chris’ prime.” Ariza becomes the starting small forward, relegating Peja Stojakovic – who figures to be shipped elsewhere along with his expiring $15 million contract some time between now and the February trade deadline – to the bench. Ariza is an athletic, lengthy defender who can knock down 3-pointers when Paul’s penetration frees him for good looks.

By trading away Wright (read “addition by subtraction”) for shooting guard Belinelli, Demps is adding another young player who’s another 3-point shooter who can make it less tempting for teams to collapse around the paint and surround Paul. Belinelli’s expiring contract also gives New Orleans flexibility next summer.

Often overlooked during Stojakovic’s tenure here has been how the presence of his world-class 3-point shooting gives Paul more room within which to operate. The long-term presence of Ariza and second-year shooting guard Marcus Thornton – as well as the long- or short-term presence of Belinelli and the short-term presence of Stojakovic – guarantees Paul will be aided by multiple 3-point threats.

Of course there’s plenty more to do – add a viable backup to Paul and shore up the center position for starters – but Wednesday’s moves should have built on the foundation that Demps established in his initial meeting with Paul.

Demps has embarked on an ambitious, incremental two-year plan to convince Paul to sign a long-term extension. He’s rolling the dice because if Paul leaves as a free agent without the Hornets getting compensation in two years, Demps’ first major undertaking as GM will have been a major failure.

But ask yourself this: would you rather him accept this challenge or begin his tenure by saying “Uncle,” trading away Paul (thus telling the world that the Hornets can’t hold on to championship-caliber talent), and trying to rebuild without him?

Good choice.


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