Q. Is Chris Paul coming to the Knicks? I see where everyone is saying yes and then they're writing it can't happen. Which is it?
- Al, Bensonhurst, N.Y.
A. OK, first let's cut to the chase. Paul has the right to opt out of his contract next summer. So he can go anywhere he pleases then.
The greater questions are:
How willing is he to leave money on the table?
Is he willing to wait until next summer?
In order for Paul to get to New York as a free agent next summer, he will have to take less than the maximum, far less, with New York unable to restructure the deals of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
But keep in mind that LeBron James, Chris Bosh and especially Dwyane Wade took significantly less than the maximum to sign with the Heat in July 2010. There is a precedent.
In order for Paul to get to New York earlier, the Hornets would have to be amenable to a sign-and-trade, and that raises two other questions:
What could the Knicks possibly offer in a trade?
And would the current league ownership or new owners of the Hornets be willing to trade the franchise's star attraction?
As for the Knicks putting together a package, there simply isn't anything there of note. You don't trade a Chris Paul for Landry Fields. It would have to take some creative multi-team maneuvering to make it work in a trade. (Based on his injury history, I'm not even sure the Hornets would take Stoudemire.)
And then there is the issue of the Hornets trading away the heart of the franchise. There is no way the NBA can go from arguing about the need for parity and then, as de facto owners of the Hornets, send Paul to the Knicks. Beyond that, the first question the NBA might ask any prospective new owner is whether they would trade Paul. While the NBA certainly couldn't make it a condition of a sale, you can bet they would prefer an owner who will do everything possible to retain the All-Star point guard.
Yet getting beyond all the aforementioned questions, there is the simple reality that if Paul does leave, who's to say it has to be to New York?
The Clippers should have ample cap space to offer a max-level contract next summer. And there are many teams who could come up with attractive packages for Paul, with those Russell Westbrook rumors receiving plenty of play in the offseason.
The Pacers and Celtics have already made clandestine pitches.
More than anything, it is undeniable that the NBA will have another Carmelo-like will-he-or-won't-he type of situation with Paul at least until the trading deadline.
The new collective-bargaining agreement has done nothing to remove the in-season free-agent drama endured with Carmelo at the start of last season.
Q. At his benefit game and book signing Dwight Howard said a lot of things, but none of them was about staying with the Magic. What does that mean?
- Ed, Kissimmee, Fla.
A. The one thing about both Paul and Howard is they have carried themselves about as well as anyone could expect in their situations, perhaps even better, with each having the right to opt out next summer.
Howard, however, is a far different person than Paul, and his gregarious personality figures to provide more fodder for the rumor mills.
While Paul would appear happy simply to be on a team that can regularly contend, Howard appears very much intrigued by bright lights and big cities. In many ways (and this is not a good thing for Orlando), he is the second-coming to Shaquille O'Neal when it comes to impending free agency.
Just as it appeared those many years back that Shaq was on a fast track to the Lakers, it sure seems the same way this time around with Howard. And with Andrew Bynum available, the Lakers actually could make an attractive offer.
(I'm not buying the Howard-to-Nets rumors, because Brook Lopez hardly has the upside of a franchise center. The more you witness Lopez, the more the limitations become apparent.)
And that's the rub. We have spent these past five months listening to the NBA tell us how imperative it was to creative competitive balance, even if it shaved games from the 2011-12 schedule. Yet here we stand, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh on the Heat, talk in New York of a Carmelo-Amare-Paul trifecta and the possibility of the Lakers atop the West with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Howard.
It will be interesting to see if the NBA manages to "encourage" the Hornets and Magic to possibly pursue other trade partners, should New Orleans and Orlando come to the realization they won't be able to re-sign their stars.
Q. Is that Phil Jackson we hear in the background warming up his pipes about how this will be an asterisk season?
- Walt, Redondo Beach, Calif.
A. Considering Jackson's retirement and lifestyle, I'm not sure we should go there when it comes to talking about his "pipes."
But while I'm sure he'll have some fun with the reduced schedule, just as he did with the Spurs' championship in the lockout-shortened, 50-game schedule in 1998-99, I'm also just as sure he would have preferred something less than 82 for much of his playing and coaching career.
The reality is the NBA might be onto something here, with the shorter schedule, one that opens when the college football season is down to its bowl games and the NFL regular season winding down. It will be interesting to see how much, if much of any, revenue is lost by not playing NBA basketball in November or early December, considering the ratings only start to build at Christmas.
Of course, the downside is that not every team will visit every city this season, which will rob fans of being personally able to witness all the league's star attractions.
Q. Will the fact that the new CBA is going to allow Chicago to pay Derrick Rose the big bucks turn out to be a positive for the rest of the Eastern Conference? I'd think they would have a much more difficult time keeping their team together with Carlos Boozer, Luou Deng and Joakim Noah, as well.
- Kevin, Denver
A. You make a reasonable point. While Bird Rights and the existing contracts will allow Chicago to keep all four, it will put the Bulls into a Big Three stratosphere without actually possessing three superstars.
If Chicago didn't have buyer's remorse last season with Boozer (as it appeared it did with Tom Thibodeau's playoff rotations), it might start to experience that now that Rose's contract is significantly higher than expected.
For that matter, losing Deng's contract wouldn't be the worst thing for the salary structure, either.
Q. I believe the lockout was emotionally beneficial to the Heat, especially LeBron, whereas otherwise there would have been a long season of self-doubt. This late start shifts the focus to establishing the season and then rapidly to the playoffs, where Heat redemption can be found. Your thoughts?
- Michael, Hollywood, Fla.
A. LeBron's motivation should be in place no matter the scenario. Either he is up to the moment, or he isn't.
In fact, the lockout might actually increase the animus directed toward the Heat, considering how so many have pointed toward Pat Riley's formulation of the Big Three as creating this parity backlash in the first place.