And it begins.
Get ready for a replay of the Carmelo Anthony saga, with Chris Paul playing the role of protagonist and the big, bad Knicks once again in the villain role.
Cue the small market-big market theme song.
Seen this movie before. It's called "Gone With the Wind."
With Yahoo Sports reporting Thursday that Paul's representatives have informed the Hornets that he will not sign an extension with the team and that he wants to be traded to the Knicks, and with the Hornets immediately shifting into damage-control mode, we're right back where we were with Melo and the Nuggets. There are several key differences, however, that should be noted.
First, as pointed out earlier this week, the new rules take some leverage away from Paul in his bid to get to New York. Oddly enough, the rules that emerged from a lockout that was supposed to be about keeping small-market stars from fleeing to big markets also has taken a measure of protection away from the home team.
But Paul has done something important here that Anthony and his camp -- the same folks from Creative Artists Agency who orchestrated the union of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami last July -- didn't do. Paul has gotten started with his exit strategy much earlier.
Actually, it was last July when Paul's reps first informed Hornets brass that he wasn't sticking around and wanted to be traded to the Knicks, Lakers or Magic. At the time, the world was focused on LeBron and then the Knicks turned their focus to Anthony, who waited until the free-agent dust settled before clamoring to be dealt to the Knicks to team up with Amar'e Stoudemire.
Anthony got his way -- got his cake and was able to eat it, too. He did this under the old rules, which allowed him to get the same max extension (three years, $65 million) that he could've signed had he stayed in Denver. That avenue is no longer available to Paul. An extend-and-trade deal would only get him one year added to the two years he has left, a non-starter for a superstar of his caliber.
An extension with New Orleans would only net Paul two more years for about $39.6 million. This is nothing compared to what Anthony got, and not even close to the extensions that James, Wade and Bosh turned down before joining forces with the Heat. They did so by getting max length and dollars via sign-and-trades, and that option isn't open to Paul, either -- at least not in the same lucrative way. If he opts out and exits New Orleans via a sign-and-trade, he'd only get a four-year, $74 million deal -- compared to the five-year, $100 million the Hornets could offer. Factor in the notion that the Knicks, as of now, don't have close to the assets necessary to pull off such a deal, and it becomes even less likely.
Which brings us back to the original point: Even though it's December, it's technically July on the NBA calendar. Paul's efforts to determine his own destiny are starting much earlier than Melo's did for a couple of key reasons: 1) With Nene and Tyson Chandler the only potential max free agents in this class, there's no one to steal the attention the way LeBron, Wade and Bosh did las July; and 2) the new rules dictate it.
The Hornets' best chance of not getting stuck losing Paul for nothing is to trade him by mid-January or so. This way, New Orleans gets prime assets from a team where Paul is assured of re-signing with, and Paul only has to wait until July to opt out and get his five-year, $100 million deal from his new team once a newly imposed six-month window expires for players to sign new deals after getting traded.
The clock is ticking on Paul's time in a Hornets uniform, and this will unfold much more quickly than the Melo saga did -- in part, because of the new rules supposedly designed to keep star players from changing teams. Go figure.
There's one key difference so far between Paul's approach and Anthony's. Paul and his representatives have yet to say the words that would turn this saga into the kind of circus that the Melo drama became -- the words that Anthony made abundantly clear last season. What are those words? "I will only sign with the Knicks."
If Paul says those words, the tables turn and the game changes. And the Hornets might be inclined to call Paul's bluff and see if playing in New York with Stoudemire and Anthony is worth about $45 million to him -- the difference between what the Hornets could offer him next July and what the Knicks could offer, given that they currently only have about $13.5 million in projected room as the starting point on a four-year deal.
One thing is clear: We've seen this soap opera before. Getchya popcorn.
With the National Basketball Players Association reformed as a union Thursday with more than 300 authorization votes from players, the union and league can now begin hammering out the fine print of the agreement and negotiate the so-called B-list issues -- such as drug testing, the age limit, etc. A ratification vote is expected by next week, allowing training camps and free agency to open as projected on Dec. 9.
But -- and you knew there would be a but -- there could be a problem for the dozens of players who signed overseas contracts during the lockout. FIBA rules do not allow the paperwork excusing such players from their obligations to be submitted until the CBA is ratified. Once that happens, teams and agents say they're concerned that there could be up to a 48-hour delay in getting the paperwork processed and freeing the players to return to the States.
Thus, there is concern that such players -- the biggest star being the Nets' Deron Williams -- won't make it back in time for the start of camp. League officials are looking into the matter, but here's one way to look at it: If this is the worst fallout from the five-month lockout as far as basketball operations go, so be it.
Sources say there's mutual interest between the Bulls and free-agent forward Caron Butler. But Chicago hasn't ruled out also making a push for restricted free agent Marco Belinelli, whose defensive liabilities wouldn't thrill coach Tom Thibodeau but whose shooting prowess could help open the floor for Derrick Rose. ... Sources confirmed this tidbit passed along by CBSSports.com's Ben Golliver: Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago and is expected to be out until late December or early January.