The Hornets have shocked the NBA community with their success to this point. They're 11-1, tied with San Antonio for best in the league. Side note: one team starts Marco Belinelli, another starts DeJuan Blair.
And the world rejoices.
Chris Paul is as good as he ever was, Trevor Ariza is recuperated (Houston, we have a problem), Emeka Okafor is skinny and healthy, Marco Belinelli is skinny and healthy (who knew he could do it?), and David West is still making jump shots like he's Peja Stojakovic or something. Etc.
After the entire league was certain Paul would force his way out of town or quit for two years so he'd be healthy for a max deal to contend in New York or wherever, he's gone another direction. The smarter direction. The brilliant champion's direction:
"Fuck you, I'll kick your ass."
And the world rejoices.
Now he's got his buddy Jarrett Jack in tow after an interesting multi-stage trade with Toronto over the weekend that sent the aging corpse of Peja north with still-interesting young talent Jarred Bayless (younger than GQ Curry) in exchange for Jack, semi-OK reserve big David Andersen, and expiring contract Marcus Banks. The move suggests future moves, too. That's right, NBA West. Don't sleep on GM Chris Paul. He's in it to win it.
The Morris Peterson trade exception used to acquire Marcus Banks was useless as part of larger trades. But laundering it now, over the weekend of November 20th-21st, converts it into a fully liquid $5 millionish for multi-player deals as early as one month before the league's February trade deadline. That one month of salary relief potential might make a major difference to a team looking to cash out on big salaried stars committed to leaving town at season's end no matter what their teams do. Getting out of financial commitments via trade exceptions or other means a month early on a multi-million dollar contract is a major draw. David Andersen is liquid, too, as less than $200,000 of his 2011-12 contract is guaranteed. Chump change write-off for most. Anyone but the California Warriors, really.
The Hornets have started the Carmelo positioning season off with a bang.
Total in effectively expiring contracts the Hornets now hold:
About $18 million if Belinelli and Jason Smith are expendable on a true star (they are).
Plus a nearly $10 million Traded Player Exception. The kind the California Warriors never used after cash-dumping Jason Richardson for Brandan Wright right after We Believe! in 2007.
When this deal went down, it seemed like the Hornets had sold way short on a major gem in the Stojakovic contract. But using it as part of a deal to free up the Peterson TPE for multi-player deals actually increases the Hornets' flexibility while dropping the team under the luxury tax threshold. They up their largest available TPE to a whopping $9.7 million or so (remainder of the Peja deal) and still have a full max contract's worth of expiring contracts. They can get TWO major difference makers now and pay some tax or get "just" Anthony and still avoid paying luxury tax.
That's flat-out brilliant executive work by Dell Demps & co.
I apologize for thinking they'd screwed this up at first.
The New Orleans Hornets just blew the Western Conference out of the water for contender-with-flexibility-to-improve status. If their fast start is no mirage (and it still could be one- nail-biter in Sacramento last night), no other team can say it's atop the tougher conference AND has a top 5 NBA superstar firing on all cylinders AND can run the February trade deadline on all fronts, with multiple teams.
The Hornets sale price should have just jumped.
No luxury tax and they can still potentially add Carmelo. Then, if you'd like to, new Hornets owner, you can pay luxury tax to add another difference maker. Make it JR Smith with Carmelo so the Nuggets are enamored with a spare parts and salary relief offer, for example, and you'll lose luxury tax handouts and pay an extra $6 million BUT you're going to kick major ass and be at least a temporary destination for top players again. Strong chance Paul convinces Carmelo to simply play out his final year and then they'll both be free agents together for 2012. And if he can't? You could get in on a S&T deal with Anthony and, bare minimum, you've got the same brilliant cap room you otherwise would have only you've still got Paul and you probably just ran some fools in the playoffs. NBA players run to contention. Good vets take less money to play with motivated superstars and players' coaches who seem to know what they're doing on all sides of the ball.
Things look better for the Hornets no matter what they do at this point. If they're about to make more moves and if they're in on Carmelo, Marcus Thornton is a decent young player to throw into the mix to sweeten a cash dump proposal to the Nuggets or another team with a departing or disgruntled star available this February. I'm less clear on the status of the Hornets' first round draft pick. Dell Demps traded a top-7 protected 2011 first round draft pick in the Bayless deal. The Hornets will not finish in the bottom 7 of the league. They'll be keeping their draft pick. But I don't think that means they can re-trade it unless they acquire another pick somehow, and they cannot trade their 2012 pick with the 2011 pick outstanding still. Anyone smarter than me, please explain this situation.
The Nuggets seemed well past the point of getting a blue chip prospect like Favors for a Carmelo rental. Before this Hornets-Raptors deal adjusted the Carmelo Destination Landscape, the Nuggets were set to fail miserably in a short-sighted, imaginationless ticket sales desperation impotence like Toronto with Bosh or surrender to one of the lowly rental offers promising mere salary relief. But the Hornets now can take as much unmatched, pure cash-dump salary in a deal with Denver as anyone AND offer at least one extremely promising young player. Possibly some draft picks, too. Marcus Thornton for JR Smith is a deal the entire league would make right now if you offered it. Chris Paul/Dell Demps may be the only executive branch in the NBA willing to be on the other end of that deal. It's a perfect storm. Carmelo is leaving Denver however he has to. This may ultimately up the offers from other teams with less firepower than New Orleans once they realize exactly what just happened. But NEVER underestimate Pre-Lockout/Retirement David Stern's manipulation of league business and behavior and his obstinate refusal to give up on a dying New Orleans market. This is his chance to rectify the Toronto problem and this is a team that has to sell locally. HAS TO.
(see: Warriors sale to Lakers/Celtics fans, rigged; anti-hiphop culture dress codes, enacted; Tech Foul ramp up, inexplicable; Donaghy, Tim; and revenue lies, constant).
There's no downside to going all-in on a Carmelo rental in New Orleans. Carmelo is better than Chris Bosh and Paul is WAY better than Chris Bosh. This set-up says real playoff success, whereas Toronto had nothing going for it. Bosh was a soft complementary player and couldn't lead Baron Davis to a doughnut. Chris Paul is the real effing deal. Give him an elite player who has already proven he can play score-first second fiddle to Paul to brilliant effect, and you win. You win.
Other teams in the West have one month to make similar moves to show they mean business on a Carmelo Anthony move. Paul and Carmelo were the top players for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics and they want to play together. They complement each other ridiculously well. One could argue no other superstar pairing makes more sense in the league today. They may well end up in New York with Amar'e in the very near future. But New Orleans is now a top candidate to land Carmelo's services for the immediate future and that should scare the living shit out the Western Conference and the league. And unlike that spoiled, moronic owner's-son-turned-can't-close-executive, Bryan Colangelo, Dell Demps has something to work for and he's going all out to keep Chris Paul happy and win everything he can.