Paul’s Landing With the Knicks Soon Is Unlikely

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The murmurs and musings have burgeoned into a fully formed, substantive and fascinating drama: Chris Paul, one of the N.B.A.’s top point guards, wants to be traded out of New Orleans.

He has a plan, a list of preferred destinations and a deadline: opening night of 2010. The Summer of LeBron could soon give way to the Fall of Paul.

As a storyline, Paul’s restlessness could dominate the rest of an already-dizzying N.B.A. off-season. In reality, nothing is likely to happen anytime soon, if at all.

Paul, 25, is under contract for two more seasons and holds an option for the 2012-13 season. He has no way to force a trade, nor can he threaten to sit out games without forfeiting his salary. If he takes his trade demands public, the N.B.A. will fine him.

Because Paul cannot become a free agent until 2012, the Hornets have no urgent reason to deal him until at least next summer. By then, a new collective bargaining agreement could completely change the N.B.A. landscape.

In the meantime, the Hornets’ front office — led by the new general manager Dell Demps and the new coach Monty Williams — should have ample opportunities to reshape the roster and perhaps persuade Paul to stay.

Paul’s discontent has been a poorly kept secret in league circles. But the extent of his escape plan was not clear until laid out the details Wednesday night. According to the report, which cited unnamed sources, Paul wants to play with another superstar and was emboldened by the newly formed LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh partnership in Miami.

Paul reportedly wants out immediately and wants to land with the Knicks, the Orlando Magic or the Los Angeles Lakers. Subsequent reports by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and ESPN listed the Knicks, the Magic, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks as the preferred destinations, with the Knicks ranking first, according to ESPN.

The Times-Picayune quoted a person close to Paul saying that no trade demand had been made.

The Knicks have some decent assets — Danilo Gallinari, Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry’s expiring contract — but probably do not have the right combination to make a direct trade for Paul.

It bears noting that Paul has no power to choose his destination. His contract does not include a no-trade clause (they are rare in the N.B.A.), which means he has no veto power. The Hornets would therefore be free to make the best deal for themselves, irrespective of Paul’s wishes.

It is also unlikely that the Hornets’ new management team would begin its tenure by trading Paul, a perennial All-Star and the face of the franchise. This is Demps’s first job running a team, but he spent five years with the San Antonio Spurs, studying under some of the sharpest executives in the league.

Demps was just hired on Wednesday and has not yet had the chance to sit down with Paul and lay out his vision for the team. That meeting is expected to take place next week.

That Paul is trying to follow James’s blueprint is not entirely surprising. The two are friends and they share the same agent, Leon Rose, and management team, LRMR — the company founded by James and his friend Maverick Carter. Paul signed up with Rose and LRMR earlier this month after severing ties with Octagon.

On Thursday, as news of Paul’s trade desires spread, James weighed in via his Twitter account, saying, “Best of luck to my brother @oneandonlycp3. Do what’s best for You and your family.”

The Hornets won a franchise-record 56 games and made the Western Conference semifinals in 2007-8, Paul’s third season. They looked like a rising power in the West. But they have been regressing ever since, losing in the first round in 2009 and missing the playoffs in 2010 amid budget concerns and roster chaos. Coach Byron Scott, who was close to Paul, was fired last November.

Paul played just 45 games last season because of injury. In his absence, the rookie Darren Collison played like a star, which only made a Paul trade seem more likely.

The Hornets are handicapped by a small market and a poor local economy, and their ownership is in flux, with the owner George Shinn in negotiations to sell majority interest to his partner, Gary Chouest.

Amid the murmurings and the rumors, there is encouragement for the Knicks — even if Paul never comes to New York.

By naming the Knicks, even privately, Paul has validated their rebuilding effort and their hope of becoming a desirable destination for star players. For most of the last decade, the Knicks were regarded as more dysfunctional and hopeless than the Hornets are now.

But the recent signing of Amar’e Stoudemire has changed perceptions and given every N.B.A. star a reason to take notice. In a toast at Carmelo Anthony’s wedding, Paul even joked about the idea of a Stoudemire-Anthony-Paul partnership in New York.

The wedding guests chuckled. It was a far-fetched fantasy. But not as laughable as it once might have seemed.

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