The Utah Jazz are going to be lucky to finish with 41 wins this upcoming season. And yet they have one of the more promising young teams in the NBA. I can only think of 10 or 11 teams in the league who have a more desirable roster and financial future than the Jazz and in two seasons, I think that number will be closer to 3 or 4. But if the Jazz were able to find a veteran point guard to run this team after Devin Harris moves on, the Jazz could be major contenders by the year 2014. And if I were Kevin O'Connor, I would make acquiring Chris Paul my goal.On the surface the idea of Chris Paul playing for the Jazz seems like a pipe dream at best. But the Jazz will most likely be in a situation to apply for Paul's services no matter how he departs New Orleans, if indeed he does. Let's take a look at how the Jazz can be players in the Chris Paul auction.
Scenario 1- Chris Paul is traded during the 2011-12 season
Admittedly there are a lot of "what ifs" to make this scenario occur, including having a season that is long enough to have a trade deadline. Like the season itself, the trade deadline is in the balance, but if for some reason, the NBA decides that trading Chris Paul is the right move for the franchise, then the Jazz have major pieces to offer. I think this is actually the first time I can remember that the have the right mix of talent, youth, draft picks and financial relief to be competitive in the trade arena for any player that becomes available.
For example the Jazz could offer Devin Harris, a serviceable point guard with a very reasonable contract, some combination of CJ Miles, Alec Burks or Enes Kanter and two 2012 lottery draft picks. That's a good haul for the Hornets if they decided to try and get something for Paul much the Jazz did by trading Deron Williams. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors appear to be the only "untouchable" Jazz players in a trade, but for Chris Paul's services, they would certainly be part of the discussion as well. But tell me (not rhetorical, please comment) a better package that can be offered than Harris, Burks/Kanter, and two potential lottery picks in the 2012 draft.
OKC could offer Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins and a late first rounder.
The Lakers could offer Andrew Bynum.
And those deals are about equal or slightly better than the Jazz's offer. I think lottery picks in the 2012 draft are so valuable. All other teams can only offer lesser deals. Orlando: Jameer Nelson and Brandon Bass? LA Clippers: Eric Gordon and Deandre Jordan and a 1st? Milwaukee: Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut?
You have to also remember that the New Orleans Hornets are currently owned by the NBA, which is important for two reasons. One, the NBA isn't going to make some lopsided Pau Gasol type offer and help a big market team get Paul's services. They don't want to look like conspirators and to avoid it, they will have to take the best offer available, even if it is from a team like the Bucks, or Jazz or Thunder. Two, is that the Hornets might be less inclined to trade Paul at all, since the NBA is trying so hard to make basketball relevant in New Orleans. The only way to make NBA interest dwindle faster in New Orleans than by trading Chris Paul, would be to move the team altogether.
Scenario 2- Chris Paul is traded during the 2012-13 season
Same rules apply as mentioned above, except those lottery picks would obviously be players. A good showing from Burks, Hayward, and Kanter would obviously improve the Jazz's trade offer as well.
Scenario 3- Chris Paul opts out of his last year and becomes a free agent the summer of 2012.
I think this is the most likely scenario of all of them. I think Chris Paul genuinely likes playing in New Orleans, but there is no way in the French Quarter that the Hornets are going to be able to put a competitive team around him in the next year. Chris Paul is a competitor and he is going to look for a way to contend for titles as soon as possible, even if it means a bit of a paycut. So why would Chris Paul sign with the Jazz after the 2012 season?
First of all, the Jazz will have cap space to sign him. No matter what the new CBA looks like on the other side of resuming professional basketball, the Jazz will have almost as much money as anyone, with only somewhere between $45-48 million tied up. The Jazz will have some money available due to Mehmet Okur's expiring contract, and would have even more room if they trade either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap in a cost-saving manner between now and next summer. Secondly, as I mentioned before, the Jazz are an up and coming team with a lot of talent. There are very few teams that will have cap space to sign Chris Paul that can tempt Paul with a promising wing player (Burks or Hayward) a potentially elite bigman (Favors) and a veteran big man (Jefferson or Millsap). And if the Jazz don't have to trade for Chris Paul, they would also have the two 2012 picks to either add depth or other pieces through trades. A core of Paul, Hayward and Favors is tougher than most NBA fans would realize. But who else would have room to sign Chris Paul?
Well, this discussion should certainly start with the New York Knicks. The Knicks will most likely have similar cap space as the Jazz next summer, but they obviously will have Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire luring Paul to the big apple. I think New York would be a likely destination for Chris Paul's services, especially on the heels of the rumors that Chris Paul mentioned teaming up with Anthony and Stoudemire during a toast at Carmelo's wedding. But if I am Chris Paul, who seems like a very smart guy, I would not join up with the Knicks, because I would know that Stoudemire and Anthony are good enough to make for an exciting team, but not win championships due to their defensive shortcomings. I would also realize that having 3 players take up $55-60 million of the cap space makes for a very very shallow team. Just ask the Heat, who started Carlos Arroyo and Joel Anthony a combined 53 games. But the Knicks are certainly a team that could attract Paul next summer, if he opted out.
Charlotte will have cap space, but unless Paul is dying to play with Matt Carroll and Tyrus Thomas, the Bobcats won't intrigue him, even if it is close to home.
The Mavericks might have some cap space, but they will also be a year older and probably devoid of Jasons Terry and Kidd. I don't see Paul wanting to join a team that has a 1-2 year window of competing. Maybe I'm wrong.
Houston will have ample space, but will only have Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola majorly contributing. And Lowry happens to play Paul's same position.
A lot of people have mentioned the LA Clippers as a good landing spot for Chris Paul and with good reason. From a basketball standpoint, it actually makes the most sense. Paul could potentially team up with Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Deandre Jordan, and Al Farouq-Aminu. On paper, that is a championship team in 3 years. But Paul would also have to play for one of the most maligned franchises to ever exist and for an owner who has not one ounce of good karma to hang his hat on. It's too bad, because Paul could turn that club from promising to the real deal overnight.
The Pacers will have cap room, but not a lot else. Unless Paul George and Roy Hibbert improve drastically in the next year.
The Lakers won't have space. The Heat won't have space. Neither will Orlando or Portland. The Timberwolves will be the Timberwolves.
So if you are keeping the score at home, the Jazz have to be a top 3 desirable location based on talent level and cap space. How does your score look at home?
I do think that Chris Paul might have an issue with playing for the Jazz. Chris Paul is one of Deron Williams' best friends and may feel loyalty to DWill enough that he wouldn't play for the team that traded Williams without consulting him first. I do think that Paul is probably over that, but I think it's an issue worth mentioning.
Scenario 4- Chris Paul becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2013.
Similar situation as scenario 3, only the Jazz would have even more cap space when Millsap, Harris and Jefferson all come off the books. By 2013, the Jazz will be even more seasoned and ready to make a championship run with the addition of Chris Paul.
In summary, I am not predicting that Chris Paul is coming to the Jazz next. I still think that New York, the Clippers and Oklahoma City are more likely. But after that, I think the Jazz have as good a chance as anyone at attracting him. And if the Jazz were able to land Paul, they would quickly, as in overnight, become major contenders. And how great would it be to be able to be on the other side of a Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams debate. I mean, how often does a fanbase get to root for the two best point guards in the league in a 3 year period?