12/1--New Orleans at Lakers
It's a new month, but the same old story. A team with a losing record comes into Staples Center--in this case, without their best player--and the Lakers jump all over them. New Orleans was the punching bag again this time around, losing to the Lakers for the second time in a month.
The Lakers led by four at the end of the first quarter, by 20 at the half, and by 21 at the end of the third. But in the fourth, the Lakers' reserves began to blow the lead--something that has happened more than once recently. But this time around, Phil Jackson refused to put his starters back in the game, even as the lead dwindled to ten in the final minutes.
"I was going to suffer the consequences," he said. "I thought one way or the other they've got to take responsibility for it, that crew that was out there."
And even though the reserves pulled out the win, the talk in the locker room after the game wasn't about the victory, but about the finish.
"We did close," Andrew Bynum said, "but especially that second unit, they really need to set and run the triangle and get organized. That's the big issue."
"We have to do a better job at closing those games," Lamar Odom added.
The fact that the Lakers had just won their seventh straight game, and instead focused on what they didn't do, is an encouraging sign. Championship teams are never satisfied, even when they win. All of the NBA Finals teams I've covered (six total) share this characteristic.
As for the Hornets, they've gone backwards since challenging the Lakers for the best record in the West only two seasons ago. Since that year, they've traded their center (Tyson Chandler), fired their coach (Byron Scott) and installed the GM (Jeff Bower) as coach in an attempt to save the ship from sinking. I've got a crazy idea for New Orleans, and I actually think it makes total sense.
I would trade Chris Paul.
Now keep in mind that I consider Paul to be the best pure point guard in the NBA since John Stockton. He's better than Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Deron Williams or Jason Kidd. He can score with anybody, sees the whole floor, and is impossible to guard. So why trade him?
He can leave after the 2012 season. And if the Hornets don't build a winner, he'll leave--all great players do. On top of that, New Orleans owner George Shinn is all about saving money. If he doesn't win, there is no way he'll pay Paul when his contract comes up.
Here's what I would do: I would trade him to Golden State for Monta Ellis, Anthony Randolph, and next year's number one pick. The salaries are almost identical. It would energize the Warriors without decimating the team. Paul would join Steph Curry, Andris Biedrins, Corey Maggette, Vlad Radmanovic, Anthony Morrow and Rony Turiaf to form a solid nucleus. In New Orleans, they get a star (Ellis) who is locked in for four more years at $11 million a season (way less than Paul would cost in two years). They also get a native son in Randolph who is still on his rookie deal. The number one pick is almost certain to be a top ten pick, maybe top five.
In the short term, Golden State is getting the best player, so they probably get the best of this deal. But the closer Paul gets to free agency, the less the Hornets can command in a trade. And if they don't do anything, they could get left with nothing. Plus, I think the Hornets would become a more balanced team, and certainly a playoff contender.
By the way, I'm not the only one who connected these dots--Sam Smith from www.bulls.com had the same idea. I've run it by a bunch of NBA writers (including Mark Heisler and Mike Bresnahan from the LA Times), and almost everyone agrees that it would make sense for both teams.
I don't think it will happen--especially now that the GM is the coach. I think he has to justify his draft picks and try to keep his job. But this is one of those deals that could and should happen. It just won't.
Next up: D'Wayne Wade and the Miami Heat, followed by a rematch with Phoenix.