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New Orleans: Land of point guards and little hope

3/29/2010

It has not been a banner year for the New Orleans Hornets. A slow start ended Byron Scott's tenure, then just as it seemed GM-turned-coach Jeff Bower put the playoffs back on the radar, Chris Paul went down with an injury to his left knee, forcing surgery and leaving him in street clothes for the next 25 games.

The silver lining has come in the form of former UCLA point guard Darren Collison, who in relief of Paul averaged 21.3 points and 8.3 assists in February, then came back with 17.1/10 the following month.

Combined with the team's struggles, general lack of profitability down in the delta, and relative frugality, Collison's play has point-guard-seeking, purple-and-gold-loving buzzards circling over the New Orleans Arena, hoping to pick off any excess the Hornets might be willing to deal. Our Land O'Lakers mailbag has seen a major uptick in, "Hey, can we get Collison?/How about swinging a trade for CP3 now that Collison has played so well?" letters.

The quick answers: No, and no.

Collison makes almost no money by NBA standards and can be held by the Hornets at a very low cost for the next few seasons. Even if he didn't look like a starting caliber point guard it's enough to make him appealing to New Orleans. Moreover, since he makes so little, trading for him is actually pretty tricky. The Lakers don't have pieces available to meet league rules for a straight-up swap, meaning they'd either have to give up more of their own players and take on other players from the Hornets (none of whom fit), or find more teams to get involved in the deal (which can be tricky).

Particularly since there's no way the Hornets are going to trade Collison for less than a king's ransom.

So what about Paul? The scenario fans most often toss around is CP3 for Andrew Bynum (who else?). Again, not going to happen. First, the Hornets will not move Paul unless they absolutely have to. At a hair under $15 million next season, Paul represents a relative bargain considering he's, you know, the best point guard on the planet. Moreover, Paul is the heart and soul of the franchise. Trading him would be like Danny Ferry moving LeBron. No GM wants that sort of heat.

Nor is the fit particularly ideal, on either end. The Hornets have Emeka Okafor under contract until the year eightybillion, and since his offensive range extends about two feet from the rim, there's almost no way he could play effectively next to Bynum, nor would Okafor's deal be easy to move. With the Lakers, Paul is the equivalent of rolling up to the rental car counter and eschewing (that's for you, Ex) the sensible mid-sized sedan to rent the Lamborghini. It looks good, but how practical is it? Amazing as Paul is, does he fit what the Lakers are really looking for to play with Kobe Bryant? A guy who handles the ball on every trip and destroys the opposition on the pick and roll?

He's much more car than the Lakers need.

There are other fancy vehicles in the lot, too. Devin Harris, for one. He's fast, he's an All-Star, he's got the sort of name value people around here love. He also can't shoot and needs the ball to be successful. Is he the solution? Nope. Instead, fans should focus on the more sensible options. Here's a look at this summer's free agent class by team, and another handy one broken down by position.

The name I keep coming back to isn't particularly sexy, but seems to make sense financially and practically. Plus, he's now a local as well: Steve Blake.

Call him a younger, better version of what the Lakers have now. Blake isn't flashy, but doesn't make a lot of mistakes, gets the ball where it needs to go, is a willing defender, and (this is important) has developed into a very solid perimeter shooter. In the Lakers' offense, all of the open jumpers Derek Fisher gets now would go to a guy who has hit near or above 40% for the last three seasons. And I don't think he'd break the bank, either.

He's not a star, but the Lakers don't need one, as evidenced by their success with Fisher over the last three seasons.

Don't like Blake? Feel free to look over the lists and find a name you prefer. But Lakers fans should absolutely think modestly about how the team will address the point guard spot this offseason. The big, expensive names aren't coming. I think Fish will be back for another year, probably starting, though with more support behind him and logging fewer minutes. Jordan Farmar likely won't return, and the Lakers will try to keep Shannon Brown (who can, and I think will, opt out of his deal to become a free agent) in the fold.

The odds are good Brown will return, but he still hasn't developed the skills to run the offense.

They'll need more hands at a reasonable price, and will have to do it without being able to offer much on the trade market. Sasha Vujacic's contract expires after next season so he might have some appeal, but likely not until the trade deadline. Who else is there they can move without substantively changing the complexion of the team?

This isn't the summer to let expectations get out of hand.