Hornets try to be patient over Paul's status
WESTWEGO, La.—Hornets general manager Dell Demps paced in and out of the club's practice gym with his mobile phone to his ear.
Inside, star guard Chris Paul wore his familiar black No. 3 practice jersey in what marked his fourth day of training camp with the team that has been trying since last week to accommodate the star guard's preference for a trade.
Paul, for the fourth consecutive day, did not speak to reporters. However, others had plenty to say.
After practice, coach Monty Williams sought to emphasize patience and perspective while entertaining yet another round of questions concerning his team's roster uncertainty.
"There has been a bit of a distraction," Williams began, but added, "I still get to coach. I'm blessed to be able to coach. I've always lived by the Bible verse, `Do your work as unto God and not unto men.' And for me, it makes it easy.
"Would I love to have some things in order? Absolutely, but it's not the case," Williams continued. "And when you're a head coach, when you're a father, when you're a husband, you have to deal in reality and I have to devote myself to the people that are here right now."
Last week, New Orleans tried to deal Paul to the Lakers, but NBA Commissioner David Stern, acting on behalf of the league-owned team, told Demps to take the deal off the table.
On Monday, Los Angeles Clippers general manager Neil Olshey said his club turned down a proposed trade involving Paul because the asking price was too high, though he did not rule out further negotiations.
The Hornets, who begin their regular season schedule in two weeks, will play their first of two preseason games this Friday night in Memphis. As night fell Monday, the Hornets still had only five returning veterans on the roster, including Paul.
They've made no significant free-agent acquisitions, and Hornets guard Jarrett Jack suggested that New Orleans may have trouble luring established free agents until Paul's status is more certain.
"We can't go sign a big-time free agent at the moment because we may be getting four, five players (in a trade for Paul) and who knows what their salaries may command," Jack said. "You've just got to be patient. I know everybody would like to have it over, get some closure to the situation, but if it was that easy it would have been done. Obviously, these things take time and we're willing to wait, hopefully not too long."
The Hornets had hoped to bring back several of their own free agents, including forward David West, but West agreed Sunday to terms with Indiana, a move that Williams described as "a blow" for New Orleans.
"There's no situation on the floor that he was afraid of. He's probably one of the toughest guys I've ever met," Williams said. "He'll be a great mentor to those young guys (in Indiana) and I'm going to miss him. You don't lose guys like David and just say, `Oh well.'"
West said the league's ownership involvement is a huge obstacle for the club.
"There just really is no direction with no legitimate owner, so that just makes it tough," West said. "It really made it tough for me to see myself going back there."
He said it also makes it tough for other free agents to want to come to New Orleans.
West suspects Paul wants out not only for that reason, but also because of "a series of events that transpired after (the 2007-08 season) sent Chris and myself into a different mindset in terms of what we really could get in New Orleans."
West said he and Paul thought the club was headed in the right direction when it fell one victory shy of the 2008 Western Conference finals. But West said that changed when then-general manager Jeff Bower "gave a cold shoulder" to Jannero Pargo in free agency.
The Hornets chose not to re-sign the backup point guard, who had been Paul's best friend on the team, "and didn't consult Chris about anything," West said.
West added that, before the hiring of Demps and Williams, Hornets upper management did not talk to him or Paul about any major moves, such as the 2009 trade of center Tyson Chandler. Chandler was first shipped to Oklahoma City, but that trade was rescinded. The Hornets later dealt Chandler to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor.
"It's nothing against Emeka, but from our perspective, being teammates with Tyson and knowing the type of impact he had on both of our careers at that particular time, I just felt like at that moment, things, in terms of the trust, the direction we were going, started to wane a bit," West said. "When you have a franchise guy like Chris, build a team around him, I'm under the impression that you've got to keep your franchise guy happy."
West said Demps and Williams constantly consulted him and Paul, and that he holds the current coach and general manager in high regard. But for him -- and possibly Paul -- it was too little, too late. West said he and Paul both struggled to envision a fruitful long-term future in New Orleans while the Hornets lacked not only a permanent owner, but one who had a proven commitment to winning.
"Ultimately, I think (Demps and Williams) got the bad luck of the draw because things were already sort of soured," West said of his and Paul's feelings before last season. "And it was just that idea of trying to build a relationship of trust in such a short period of time."