Grading The Deal: Chris Paul To Turn L.A. Into Lob City
After at least three Chris Paul trades were rejected by the NBA, two involving the Lakers and one with the Clippers, the Hornets finally reached an agreement to send the best player in their franchise history to Los Angeles, and to the Clippers.
The sticking point for the Clippers has been whether they would include both Eric Gordon and the 2012 first round pick from Minnesota, along with Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu, and they ultimately decided to pay that price while keeping Eric Bledsoe. The real value lost for the Clippers is Gordon and that unprotected pick, which should almost certainly be in the 2012 lottery.
Paul will now join Blake Griffin to form a super-tandem of their own that will be the most purely electric brand of basketball the city of Los Angeles has seen since the Showtime Lakers. Their respective games couldn’t possibly complement each other better offensively and they are undoubtedly two of the top-15 players in the NBA, possibly two of the top-10, and it isn’t a stretch to say they are the best player at their respective position.
Griffin took about half of his shot attempts at the rim and that is certain to increase when playing with a point guard of Paul’s caliber. They will be unquestionably deadly as a pick-and-roll tandem, as Paul is one of the most creative assist men in the history of the NBA, and we have never really seen a player with as much explosion in the air as we did from Griffin throughout his rookie season.
The Clippers ranked 22nd in the NBA in points per 100 possessions at 105.3, and that will certainly improve with Paul facilitating. Last season, the Clippers underachieved in the pick-and-roll and were downright bad in isolation situations. Paul improves the Clippers immediately in both areas. The Clippers may have liked the idea of building around Griffin and Gordon as their nucleus and pick-and-roll tandem, but there is really no comparison with Paul in there instead.
The signing of DeAndre Jordan also looks much better through the prism of the Paul acquisition. Everyone believes Jordan has the potential of becoming Tyson Chandler 2.0 and he will have every opportunity to successful develop into that player because of the way Paul creates lob opportunities for his bigs.
Monday’s acquisition of Chauncey Billups also looks even better with the Paul trade because they can so easily share a backcourt. Paul has played some of his best basketball throughout his career with a point guard, whether it has been Speedy Claxton, Jannero Pargo or Jarrett Jack. Billups has enough strength to guard shooting guards, and he will be able to spread the floor with his three-point shooting while also still remaining a pure playmaker.
Finally, the Caron Butler acquisition also looks much more sensible in light of the Paul trade since the Clippers are accelerating their timeline for contention. His value as a peripheral scorer and glue guy is all he is really capable of anymore and a clear improvement over the underrated Ryan Gomes.
The Clippers do have some additional work to do on their roster. Depth at center behind Jordan is a huge issue with the departure of Kaman and while they are loaded with guards, they are either points or combos in Paul, Bledsoe, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Billups and Willie Warren. A trade involving at least one of those players (can’t be Billups) is critical for better roster balance.
In examining the cost of assets the Clippers gave up to acquire Paul, it is far higher than what the Knicks gave up to acquire Carmelo Anthony and what the Nets gave up for Deron Williams. The 2012 first from Minnesota is the highest prized asset of these three trades because the worst case situation for it is a top-10 pick in a historically deep draft. Gordon would be ranked first if not for the fact that he is on the final year of his rookie scale contract.
This is a trade the Clippers had to make since they were so close on it and they have never had this much potential for greatness in their entire franchise history. Furthermore, the fact that they trumped an offer from the Lakers makes the coup even more satisfying.
In terms of talent, the Clippers have the makings of a team that can easily get out of the first round and morph into a true contender if Griffin takes another step forward and they continue to get the right mix of supporting pieces-- primarily strong spot-up shooters capable of defending the game’s premier wings.
Injuries are the primary risk because Paul and Griffin combined to play 45 games during the 09-10 season (Griffin sat the entire season). They are positively more susceptible to injury than superstars like Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who have never missed time, but that is simply part of the inherent danger with these two special players. The most important piece of the trade for the Clippers was Gordon, who has also been banged up in each of the past two seasons as well.
Grade for Clippers: B
This trade is much better for the Hornets than the one that would have netted them Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Lamar Odom because rebuilding from scratch is always the option with a higher rate of success. The Hornets will be able to rebuild around Gordon, if they decide to keep him next summer in restricted free agency, as well as the two lottery picks they will have in June.
The Hornets are following the same model used last season by the Cavaliers, who ended up with two of the top-four picks in the 2011 NBA Draft and already have a better five-year outlook than those teams on the mediocrity treadmill.
New Orleans will look to move the expiring contract of Chris Kaman, but their major lifting is done. With Martin, Scola and Odom, the Hornets would have had to make additional moves to truly capitalize on the value of those assets.
Grade for Hornets: A
The Lakers thought they had Paul on multiple occasions and the manner in which the trade was killed by the NBA will remain as a bitter part of their otherwise charmed franchise history for as long as Griffin is converting those Paul-delivered alley-oops in their own building. But the Lakers will have a better outlook in the long-run by not completing this deal. There wasn't enough assets in the coffers to acquire both Paul and Dwight Howard, and that is really the only way Paul would have been worth it for them.
In the short-term, the Lakers will move forward with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, which is a top-3 that is as strong as any in the entire NBA when healthy. They have too many issues at point guard and on the wing to consider themselves legitimate contenders at this point, so this will likely be a transitional year where they look to reload through a Howard trade, or some other bold move the Lakers are always capable of manufacturing.
The real cost for the Lakers was that it cost them Lamar Odom in what amounted to a complete giveaway to a conference rival, even if Mike Brown’s offense supposedly wasn’t well-suited for him.
Grade for Lakers: C+
Since this is a better trade for the Hornets than the one they agreed to last week with the Lakers and Rockets, is David Stern's league office off the hook? Not at all. It is a permanent blight on his resume that will be mentioned when he retires and will make it into his extended New York Times' obituary. To follow-up a controversial labor negotiation with this type of very public and heavy-handed trade situation was too much for the NBA to endure in what was supposed to be a quiet offseason.
The inevitability of Paul leaving while the Hornets were owned by the NBA was something that plenty of people foresaw and their choice to deviate from the original plan of giving Dell Demps autonomy crossed many lines and brought the entire integrity of the league back into question for the first time since the Tim Donagy scandal broke.
The role of the league office had to be as 'acting owner' and I can't recall a situation where a GM had to publicly take multiple trades that he had agreed upon to his owner for approval. The communication breakdown, competing agendas and complete undermining of a team's general manager is really without precedent.
If Micky Arison, Jim Dolan, Joe Lacob or Herb Kohl had behaved in this way, they would have been subjected to a similar level of criticism.
Expect Stern to go somewhat quietly into the night during the 2012 or 2013 Finals after this has blown over.
Grade for NBA: F
Paul has been put through the ringer with the events of the past seven nights, believing he was going to the Lakers before the NBA killed the proposed traded and he responded with a simple 'WoW'.
There is an undeniable allure to put on the purple and gold, but the basketball situation with the Clippers is better for Paul. The window of opportunity is longer since Griffin and Jordan are both in their very early 20s and they also fit better stylistically than playing beside Kobe and Bynum.
His number one choice was to join Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire with the Knicks, but he didn't have the leverage to get there with them lacking the requisite assets. That also presents stylistic issues with Anthony needing to dominate the ball.
In terms of off the court opportunities, this move has the most upside since he gets to play in a big market that has no legacy to live up to. The Clippers can absolutely belong to Paul and Griffin in the way the Bulls belong to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen since that franchise also were historical underachievers.
Grade for Paul: B+