Breaking Down The Chris Paul Trade

The Chris Paul deal is finally done.  And rather than gripe about the farce that led to this, it’s time to move forward and look at what this means for each team. 

The New Orleans Hornets lost a superstar.  When that happens, you lose the trade.  But the final verdict on this trade won’t come until at least six and nine months from now, and maybe longer.

First, they hold the unprotected first round pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves.  And while no one expects much from the Wolves this season (or ever, really), there’s absolutely no guarantee that this pick will be in the top five.  So there’s no guarantee an Anthony Davis from Kentucky or Harrison Barnes from North Carolina will land in New Orleans.  So step one in this rebuilding process, and trade evaluation, will be to see where this pick lands. 

Secondly, Eric Gordon is a restricted free agent in 2012.  HE is the guy the NBA held out for in all of this, so he’s a pretty important piece to keep.  Of course, the Hornets have an advantage in that they can offer more money and years to Gordon.  But we can easily expect the bidding for Gordon to be fierce next summer.  So the second part of this equation is whether the Hornets will face a Chris Paul redux with Gordon as he fields huge offer sheets from around the league. 

Chris Kaman is in the last year of a contract and making $12 million.  He’s a good center who won’t turn 30 until about playoff time, so there will be some bidding for his services as well.  The Hornets may just be willing to let him go and get overpaid (like every other big man in the world) somewhere else.  This falls under “cap flexibility,” but it’s another variable that will affect the final judgement of this trade.

And finally, we have Al-Farouq Aminu, a promising swing man who is not quite ready for big-time minutes.  His shooting was, let’s say, not great last season and he turns the ball over a bit too much.  His deficiencies are fixable.  He’s only 21 and he’s got no pressure on him at all.  Of course, he could never improve, which would be a horrible disappointment, but that possibility exists.

The variables on New Orleans’ side are pretty big.  If the Hornets keep Gordon, get a top 5 pick, and Aminu grows as a player, then this deal will turn out just fine for New Orleans.  Sure, you lost a stud payer and that will hurt.  I’m not going to try to minimize that impact.  But the best-case scenario is a pretty good one for the Hornets.  Unfortunately, the worst case scenario is a pretty bad one.  So we’ll have to wait and see. 

The Clippers also stand to lose out.  Chris Paul could opt out and walk after one season.  That’s a risk the Clippers were willing to take because this one season could produce a barrage of highlights we haven’t seen since the days of Shawn Kemp or Dominique Wilkins.  Hell, Blake Griffin has done a fine job of that so far as it is.  But imagine a 3-on-1 fast break with Chris Paul flanked by Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. 

… hold on…

… still imagining…

… oh baby…

The Clippers could easily get into the playoffs as a low seed.  Chris Paul, despite people worrying about his knee, can still control just about every phase of the game and make life a lot easier for his teammates.  The thrill of playing with high fliers and creating a fun, exciting atmosphere in a big market might be enough to sway Paul into re-signing and could make the Clippers attractive to free agents.  And the Clippers will have cap room next season.

The final verdict is, tentatively, the Clippers win out because anyone who trades for Chris Paul wins out.  This year will be an exciting one and you are virtually guaranteed to see a ton of Clippers highlights and maybe even a Clippers playoff run.  The Clippers will have a season to convince Paul to come back and attract other great free agents.  The Hornets will have a season to convince Gordon to stick around as the center-piece of a rebuilding process that may include a top, if not THE top, pick in a very good draft.  But when we look back at this trade in a few years, we could just as easily say “both teams really made out” as we could say “both teams got hosed.”  A lot is still up in the air before we can pass final judgement. 

In the meantime, enjoy the show.  And stock up on rims at the Staples Center.