Exec: Hornets saying 'No deals for Paul'
The New Orleans Hornets prepared for their highly anticipated sitdown with star guard Chris Paul by turning away the latest flurry of trade calls from other teams, according to NBA front-office sources.
Sources told ESPN.com that teams inquiring about Paul's availability in recent days -- and there have been several after persistent media reports suggesting that Paul would formally request to be traded at a meeting Monday -- were greeted with the same resistance to Paul offers that the Hornets have maintained for months.
"They say they aren't moving him," one rival team executive said of the Hornets.
Paul seemed to have grown amicable to their intentions after the 11 a.m. ET meeting, which according to sources with knowledge of New Orleans' thinking included Paul's new agent Leon Rose, with the Hornets represented by general manager Dell Demps, coach Monty Williams and team president Hugh Weber.
"The meeting went well," Paul said in a statement released by the team. "It was great to get an opportunity to sit down with Coach Williams, President Weber and our new general manager Dell Demps. I expressed my desire to win and I like what they said about the direction that they want to take the team. I have been a Hornet my entire career and I hope to represent the city of New Orleans and state of Louisiana for many years to come."
Demps was scheduled to meet with the media at 1:30 p.m.
Sources with knowledge of New Orleans' thinking said over the weekend that the Hornets' stance is unlikely to change, at least in the short term, even if Paul himself tells the Hornets for the first time that he wants out.
The Hornets' new basketball brain trust of Demps and Williams -- with Demps hired by Weber only last Wednesday -- was expected to use their first face-to-face audience with the All-Star guard to urge Paul to give the fledging regime an opportunity to prove it can build a winning team around him.
Yet even if they were unsuccessful with that pitch, Hornets officials are apparently determined to hold firm and deal Paul only on their terms and timeline, knowing they have two full seasons before the 25-year-old can opt out and become a free agent in the summer of 2012.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Friday that Paul is planning to furnish the Hornets with a list of teams to which he'd like to be traded.
Yet even if they are unsuccessful with that pitch at the scheduled morning meeting, Hornets officials are apparently determined to hold firm and deal Paul only on their terms and timeline, knowing they have two full seasons before the 25-year-old can opt out and become a free agent in the summer of 2012.
Those wishes, until now, have only been communicated to the Hornets and other teams from Paul's new team of agents, sources said. That team includes LeBron James' CAA Sports representative in Rose and James' business manager, Maverick Carter, as well as James adviser William Wesley.
Broussard also reported Friday that Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic top Paul's wish list of potential trade destinations, followed by trades to New York, Dallas or Portland. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Friday that Rose reached out to all four teams in the past week.
Before the mid-July dismissal of Demps' predecessor Jeff Bower, Weber said earlier this month at a joint public appearance with Paul that there was "no question" Paul would start next season as a Hornet. Team management has not commented publicly on the situation since CBSSports.com reported Wednesday night that Paul was intensifying his efforts to force his way out of New Orleans, but Demps is scheduled to conduct his first session with reporters Monday afternoon after the meeting with Paul.
Paul publicly broached the subject of being traded for the first time in an ESPN.com interview with Broussard in June. Paul acknowledged in that interview that his fondness for New Orleans is such that he regards it as his adopted hometown, but he also made it clear that he would be open to a trade if the Hornets were not committed to spending what it takes to compete in the perennially strong Western Conference.
Sources close to the situation maintain that the root of Paul's growing desire since that interview to be dealt comes from watching his close friend James land in Miami with Team USA teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and the steady encouragement he's been getting from James, Rose, Carter and Wesley to try to force the Hornets' hand.
As James said of Paul late last week via his Twitter feed: "Best of luck to my brother. ... Do what's best for You and your family."
If Paul can't be convinced to buy into the organization's rebuilding plan, New Orleans will certainly take some comfort in the knowledge that it possesses a two-season buffer before Paul is eligible for free agency.
In that scenario, though, New Orleans would still have plenty to ponder. A case can be made that keeping Paul in hopes of eventually regaining the confidence of the face of the franchise -- or merely holding off until the Hornets decide that they're ready to trade him -- might not be as beneficial for the long-term health of the franchise as proactively trying to move Paul and ultimately spare themselves from the daily distraction and potential negative impact at the gate that comes with employing a disgruntled superstar.
Paul has become hugely popular in New Orleans and is often credited with saving NBA basketball in the region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But it remains to be seen how severely his popularity might be damaged by this ongoing story line.
Uncertainty about Paul's future also only figures to further unsettle the Hornets' fan base amid fears that the proposed sale from longtime owner George Shinn to minority partner Gary Chouest will ultimately collapse, after news of Chouest's plans to buy a majority interest in the Hornets initially spawned so much optimism in April.
But Williams has repeatedly expressed confidence in recent days that he and Demps -- former teammates in San Antonio and disciples of the Spurs' highly successful program established by coach Gregg Popovich and personnel chief R.C. Buford -- can reach Paul in spite of their shared inexperience as lead decision-makers.
Williams has also made it clear that the Hornets have yet to be directly notified by Paul that he is dissatisfied to the point of wanting to leave and won't accept that as the club's reality until they hear it from him.
If the Hornets do reach the point of shopping Paul, whether that's before the season starts or later, rival executives expect them to insist that any trade rids them of the onerous contracts possessed by big man Emeka Okafor (due $53 million-plus over the next four seasons) and possibly James Posey ($13 million-plus over the next two seasons) as well.
It's likewise believed that the Hornets would open up the bidding to the whole league in search of the most favorable deal, since Paul -- without the no-trade clause that Kobe Bryant possessed in 2007 when he asked the Los Angeles Lakers to trade him -- has no means to ensure that he lands in one of his preferred destinations.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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