Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Updated: July 22, 11:37 AM ET
Hornets hire Demps; Paul wants out?
ESPN.com news services
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Hornets have a new coach and a new general manager. But will they have their All-Star point guard?
A little more than a month after making 38-year-old Monty Williams the youngest coach in the NBA, the Hornets hired Williams' longtime friend and former NBA teammate, 40-year-old Dell Demps, as general manager on Wednesday.
But shortly after Demps was introduced, a report on CBSSports.com -- citing a "person with direct knowledge of his plans -- said that guard Chris Paul has what the story described as "an aggressive exit strategy" to leave the team, possibly prior to the upcoming season.
Paul has said he wants the Hornets to prove their commitment to winning immediately. The Hornets say they intend to do so, but they have little room under the NBA's salary cap. The team is also in the process of transferring ownership from George Shinn to Gary Chouest, though the deal has been stalled.
Paul told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard on June 23 that he was open to a trade if the Hornets aren't committed to winning championships.
"My first choice is to be in New Orleans,'' Paul said then, in a telephone interview from London. "I just want to make sure we're committed to winning. If we're not committed to winning and trying to get better so we can contend with the Lakers, the Celtics and all these other top teams, then I'm open to being traded.''
Wednesday's CBSSports.com report said Paul saw what his friend LeBron James did in signing to play alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat, and has designs on doing something similar.
"He wants out," the person with knowledge of Paul's plans told CBSSports.com. "He wants to play with another superstar."
The New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers are on Paul's list of preferred destinations, sources told CBSSports.com. The sources said members of Paul's "inner circle" have told the Hornets the guard wants out in part because "he feels like they haven't put the right pieces together."
Sources told Broussard on Thursday that the Knicks and Magic are on Paul's list of preferred destinations, but the Lakers are not. Sources told Broussard that the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks are also in the running if Paul were to be traded.
The Hornets are saddled with expensive contracts this season for role players such as Peja Stojakovic ($15.3 million), Emeka Okafor ($11.5 million) and James Posey ($6.5 million), and have little room under the NBA's luxury tax threshold.
Hornets president Hugh Weber has said the club does not intend to take on any new debt while the sale of the team is pending, and must find creative ways to improve the roster.
Still, when healthy, the Hornets have talent at some key positions, from Paul to power forward David West and promising second-year guards Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison.
Demps takes over for Jeff Bower, who stepped down last week after spending nearly 15 years with the club in various capacities, the past five as general manager.
"Beginning with the hiring of head coach Monty Williams, we've begun a path of building our basketball operations with people we feel are going to be the best in the business, and Dell Demps certainly fits into that category," Weber said Wednesday, when the Hornets formally named Demps as the seventh general manager in franchise history.
Bower also served as coach for most of last season after the firing of Byron Scott.
Now the Hornets have a coach and general manager who both showed promise at their recent stops in the NBA, but have no track record in their current posts.
"From the moment I spoke to Hugh and Monty about this opportunity, I could tell something special was building within the organization," Demps said. "The Hornets are a great organization with a lot of positive pieces."
Just as the Hornets liked the way Williams, as an assistant coach, helped mold a young Portland squad into a playoff contender, they also liked that Demps spent the past five years in San Antonio under general manager R.C. Buford, who has helped the small-market Spurs become perennial contenders.
"Dell shined through as a rising star from a program in San Antonio that has a tremendous history of building a franchise into a championship contender," Weber said.
Buford congratulated the Hornets on hiring Demps, predicting that his style would complement that of Williams, who started his coaching career in San Antonio as an intern under Gregg Popovich during the 2004-05 season.
"Having worked closely with both Dell and Monty, I'm confident that they will provide great leadership to the Hornets franchise," Buford said. "Dell has been a trusted confidant and an integral part of our organization."
Demps and Williams both played for San Antonio during the 1995-96 season. While the Hornets were looking for a new general manager, Demps and Williams had dinner together, although Williams said that was an unofficial meeting between friends.
"We did have dinner, but it was one of those nights where we were talking about San Antonio stuff and talking about when Pop used to rip us a new one back in the day," Williams said, grinning, the day before Demps was hired.
After the hiring was made offical, Williams was clearly pleased.
"I have been fortunate to know Dell for a long time and we share a lot of the same beliefs," Williams said. "He wants and has a great basketball pedigree, learning from some of the best minds in the business. Dell is a winner, hard worker and does things the right way. He will be a great asset."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.