According to most reports, the Lakers are currently in the lead for the rights to acquire Chris Paul (as of December 7, 2011). The problem is, L.A. doesn’t quite have the right assets to land Chris Paul. Here’s why, and here’s a logical solution:
What New Orleans Wants: Losing Paul is going to kick start a rebuilding process, and that means that the Hornets need to turn solid veterans with big contracts (i.e., Emeka Okafor) into less expensive players and assets. The Hornets also want good first round draft picks.
- Takeaway: New Orleans probably isn’t going to trade Chris Paul unless Okafor goes along with him.
What Los Angeles Wants: Chris Paul at any cost. Paul can be the face of the Lakers for the rest of this decade, succeeding Kobe. Furthermore, Paul + the Hollywood lifestyle will ensure that L.A. can entice free agents for years to come.
- Takeaway: L.A. will probably trade anyone who isn’t named Kobe to acquire Paul.
The Problem: If we look at the centerpieces of the Chris Paul – Lakers trade:
- New Orleans would pass on a Bynum for Paul trade because that doesn’t get rid of Okafor.
- Trading Paul + Okafor for Bynum + Gasol (or perhaps Bynum + Odom), solves #1, but neither Odom nor Gasol help the Hornets rebuild. There’s also the fact that Odom and Gasol are incredibly expensive players for a rebuilding team.
- The Lakers can offer first round picks, but none of the picks are going to be very high. They’re likely to come in the late 20′s, which is nothing to get excited about considering Golden State and the Clippers can offer more.
The Solution: Why not pull in the Hawks?
Josh Smith is available, and Atlanta has picks they might be willing to offer up in a Gasol trade. L.A. could then trade the pick(s) from Atlanta to New Orleans (along with a pick or two of their own) and take back Okafor and Paul. Here’s the deal I would propose:
- L.A. gets Chris Paul, Okafor, and Josh Smith
- New Orleans gets Bynum, Kirk Hinrich, and draft picks from both Atlanta and L.A.
- Atlanta gets Gasol and saves about $2 million in salary
- L.A. gets a great group of players and a legit shot at a championship, but they also get to pay a hefty luxury tax. As time goes by, these types of contracts are going to become very toxic, and only big markets like L.A. will be able to take them on.
- New Orleans gets a nice young asset in Bynum, picks, and a veteran point guard who can hold down the fort (and who might take a buy-out later this year). New Orleans could also probably work out some cash in this trade too.
- Atlanta gets to move Al Horford to PF, adds an All-Star at Center, and gets rid of a malcontent who will be very expensive to re-sign (Smith). They also save money this year.
While this trade isn’t perfect – New Orleans would prefer picks from lottery teams, L.A. probably doesn’t want to take on Okafor, and Atlanta needs depth – all three teams get what they need.
Furthermore, both L.A. and Atlanta have a legit shot at a championship this year as a result of this trade. Gasol + Horford + Joe Johnson is a formidable group out East that will give the Heat and the Bulls a good run.