Now that we're past Summer League I'll catch up on your mailbag questions again. This special edition is all about Chris Paul, made necessary by more than 140 Paul-related queries sent in the last few days. To simplify I'm going to break down the specific questions into general categories, covering 30-odd variations at once. Also fair warning: I'm not prone to responding to specific trade ideas, as I could spend hours just addressing them. That's what the occasional Trade Drawer is for.
Should the Blazers go after Chris Paul in general?
It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how much people can over-think this. The answer is YES. You can speculate on fit and chemistry and even injuries (the latter of which is the most legit concern) but when you have the chance to get a Hall-of-Famer with prime years left in his career all of that goes out the window. The opportunity is so rare that you don't question, you just do it. That kind of player could make an exponential difference in your team's production. That kind of player still has sky-high value even if he doesn't work out with your squad. This trade is unlike any other that's been seriously considered over the past few years. Normal rules do not apply. In the most general sense, if you have the chance to get Chris Paul you get him.
Under what conditions would a trade make sense?
There's one automatic scenario from a talent/roster standpoint: if the Hornets will accept any package that leaves Portland's core of Roy, Aldridge, Oden, and Batum untouched. I cannot imagine this scenario actually coming about. But if New Orleans really valued the expiring contracts of Miller and Przybilla plus whatever other young talented they wanted plus however many draft picks they wanted from the Blazers (or if their entire management staff got really drunk) you do that deal immediately, no questions asked. If Chris Paul failed a physical you'd still do it. It's a slam dunk.
The more likely scenario involves those assets plus one of the members of that core. The rule should be this: you happily make a deal involving Batum or Aldridge IF Paul will agree to sign an immediate extension. Either Aldridge or Batum will have value for a long time, on the court or in trade. Paul's contract runs two more years. It's quite possible (my gut says likely) that one of those years will be completely or partially locked out. That leaves just one full season for Paul to get acclimated to Portland. If his goal in moving is to win a title, it's unlikely that he will have succeeded in just that one season. Where does that leave Portland when his contract is up? What's to keep him with the Blazers as opposed to a proven championship team or a bigger market? If you're going to say heartfelt loyalty and loving the environment, talk to the people in New Orleans about how much those are binding him these days. The same people who are advising him to switch teams now will have no qualms about advising him to switch teams again. The Blazers might be able to keep him but it's not guaranteed they would. It doesn't make sense to trade a long-term value player for a short-term value player if the outcome isn't a title within that short term. Thus the extension.
Side Note: Aldridge hasn't been mentioned much in potential deals because the Hornets probably wouldn't have direct interest in him and he's a BYC player this year. But if you could concoct a three-team deal that included him but not the other three it'd probably make sense for the Blazers to part with him. Marcus Camby can play power forward in the near future and you can find another forward through the draft or in free agency. Serviceable power forwards are common and that's about what you'd need with a full-flowered, Paul-led Blazer team.
If the Hornets insisted upon two of Portland's core players the answer would probably be no, as the risk is multiplied. In fact if the Hornets insisted upon Greg Oden at all you'd have to say no unless the team has completely given up on him, as his rebounding and defense would be key to Paul's success. Even with Emeka Okafor coming back that would be a tough move, though you'd be OK if you didn't believe in Oden's future. (Well...that and keeping both Oden and Okafor on the same roster would involve serious duplication of talent and exorbitant salary, which we'll discuss next.) Including Brandon Roy would make the move look lateral and is also a no unless you're concerned about his long-term durability. But then you're probably concerned about Paul's as well.
This is one of the reasons a trade will be tricky. The Blazers are all but forced to give up pieces they don't want to lose or face untenable depth problems and/or overlapping risk points...namely injuries. Even the ideal moves leave a messy, expensive overall roster with health vulnerability. But the tantalizing promise of just the top five of that roster might make a deal worthwhile.
What kind of financial impact would Paul have on this team?
It'd be serious. This may be one of the long-term bars to the trade getting done. Let's say the dream scenario happened and Portland traded expiring contracts and young guys for Paul. Within a couple years they'd have Roy and Paul maxed out, Aldridge at near max, plus Oden and Batum with hefty raises. It'd be an awe-inspiring starting five but the Blazers could easily spend $65+ million on those players alone. The era of the $80-100 million team would return. Is that lineup guaranteed a championship or two to justify that money in this new, fiscally-tight era? Perhaps the new CBA would eliminate predecessor contracts and bring that number down. But that's a provision the owners are going to have a hard time winning. More likely the lower contract numbers would be set from the new CBA forward, leaving teams with old contracts up the creek. I'd love to see Portland get a chance to test the championship-worthiness of that lineup but it had better work if they try it.
And then there's Emeka Okafor's contract. That would be the sweetener inducing the Hornets to make the deal. That runs between $11.5 and $14.5 million for the next four years. Trading away Camby, Przybilla, Miller, and some youngsters would make the books balance this year but the hit on the pocketbook over the next three would be pain...ful. You'd be blowing almost $80 million on your top six players by 2012-13.
Even with one of those contracts going off the books in trade the financial risk would still be high. It may not worry fans, but it would probably keep Paul Allen and the Vulcans up at night when considering a deal like this.
What kind of on-court impact would Paul have on this team?
Almost as striking as the financial impact. This guy is MVP-level amazing. He shoots near 50% from the field. He shot 40% from the arc last year. He hits free throws. He provide another clear, daunting scoring option, executable from any range, which would free up the rest of the court for everyone else. His offensive threat alone would make every teammate look better on offense. That's not even counting his double-digit assist average. He's a good defender at point. More to the point, with that much firepower in the backcourt Portland would be free to play any combinations they wanted up front. Want to go Oden-Camby for a while? Okafor-Cunningham? Stack all the defense you'd like in the frontcourt because the offense won't suffer that much...at least not compared to what currently happens. Portland's bigs would be tasked with defending and rebounding. With the board-work assured the team could finally get out and run as well...a necessity if you're going to take full advantage of Paul's gifts. I'm hard-pressed to think of a single significant downside to having Paul in the lineup. He even has the all-important superstar quality of two first names! That's exactly why Portland fans shouldn't have any qualms about the Millers, Przybillas, or maybe even the Batums of the world going the other way in trade. (Though that last one makes my heart hurt.)
Would this team contend with Paul, providing only one of the core guys was lost?
Yes...as long as the Blazers got more than one year out of him. If he's gone after the new CBA the Blazers are going to have a hard time overcoming the hole his departure would leave.
Will this trade happen?
I'm more ready to believe than I have been at any time before but I still think not. I'd guess the option is being hotly explored and the conversation kept mum at Blazers HQ. But ultimately Portland will need the right combination of talent sent in exchange, the right assurances from Paul, and the right financial numbers to make this work. Any one of those would be difficult. Getting all three to match is like fitting a broken-backed camel through the eye of a needle in a haystack. I'll be impressed if they can get it done.
The non-Paul-related questions are next. Send any mailbag queries to firstname.lastname@example.org and please put "Mailbag" somewhere in the subject line to make it easier for me to sort mail.