By J.A. Adande
With the prospect of Phil Jackson leaving the Lakers edging closer to reality and the thought of the Hornets trading Chris Paul entering the realm of possibility, my mind’s in overdrive. You see, sometimes I combine various tidbits of NBA information into a what-if scenario, just as I sometimes throw whatever fruit I have on hand into the blender to make a smoothie. This is one of those times -- for a what-if scenario, that is. Not a smoothie. (Although I’d love a smoothie right now. That’d be great.)
It’s not that hard to envision a scenario that brings Paul to the Lakers. It starts with Jackson retiring, a move he said he is “leaning toward.” Then bring in Byron Scott to replace him, as has long been rumored. Out goes the triangle offense, which probably wouldn’t suit Paul. In comes Paul, who maintained a good relationship with Scott even after Scott was fired by the Hornets. (That’s more than could be said with Scott’s previous two point guards, Baron Davis and Jason Kidd.) Meanwhile, Scott and Kobe Bryant go way back to Kobe’s rookie year, when they were teammates, so that would work, too.
Why would any of this work for the Hornets? They need to shed salary, with the four years and $52 million remaining on Emeka Okafor’s contract sticking out on their spreadsheet like a nun on Bourbon Street. The best way to entice a team to take on that contract would be to include Paul in the deal, painful though it may be for the Hornets. Besides, if they really like Paul and want to repay him for everything he’s done for that franchise and the New Orleans community they’ll give him a chance to play for a championship contender.
They could send Paul (owed $14.9 million in 2010-11) and Okafor ($11.5 million), with contracts totaling $26.4 million, to the Lakers for the combined $27.5 million in 2010-11 contracts of Andrew Bynum ($13.8 million), Lamar Odom ($8.2 million) and Sasha Vujacic ($5.5 million). This would have to be done after July 1, when Paul and Bynum are no longer base-year compensation players. The short-range benefit for the Hornets is that Vujacic’s contract expires after next season and they would pay Bynum and Odom about $5 million less than the approximately $29 million Paul and Okafor will make in 2011-12, which would make the slight increase in the 2010-11 payroll a little easier to digest. The biggest savings could be in 2012-13, which are team-option years for both Bynum and Odom. The Hornets could have $24 million come off the books in 2012 instead of being on the hook for the final two years and $28 million of Okafor’s contract through 2014. Or they could keep Bynum if he lives up to the potential he demonstrated in his best months with the Lakers. Despite all of his injuries, the thought of Bynum at $16.5 million in 2012-13 sounds better than Okafor at $13.5 million
The immediate return would be a competitive lineup next season that included Bynum, Odom, Darren Collison and David West, with Peja Stojakovic still around in the final year of his contract. That’s better than the squad they fielded for the 37 games Paul missed last season. It's not a championship lineup but it could at least make a run at the playoffs.
The Lakers could be eying space for another banner on the crowded Western wall of Staples Center. They'd be looking at a backcourt of Bryant and Paul, with Pau Gasol, Okafor and Ron Artest up front. Derek Fisher could go to the bench and be preserved for important playoff situations. With Bryant more averse to driving the lane the past few seasons, Paul could be the guy to create off the dribble. And Paul’s proclivity for steals could set the Lakers up for easy transition baskets. Just imagine him testing the limits of Shannon Brown’s vertical leap with lob passes (if Brown came back to L.A. next season).
The fact that the Lakers have been to three NBA Finals and won two championships since they acquired Gasol from the Grizzlies makes that deal one of the great trades in NBA history. Why not try to do it one better by going after Chris Paul?