- Matt Wong, NBA
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Chris Paul cannot become a free agent until the summer of 2012, but that hasn't prevented the All-Star guard from expressing his concern about the direction of the New Orleans Hornets. Since the Miami SuperFriends joined forces, Paul has seemed especially intrigued by the idea of following suit to join or help create a team of superstars.
While things remain uneasy in The Big Easy, a meeting between the Hornets' front office and Paul seems to have settled the waters for now. But that doesn't necessarily change the long-term outlook much, and indeed 87 percent of our panelists believe CP3 will be somewhere else within a couple of years.
Here's our voting breakdown:
New York Knicks (41 votes)
It was the toast heard 'round the world OK, maybe just the New York metropolitan area. At Carmelo Anthony's wedding, just two days after LeBron's televised decision, Chris Paul took the mic and reportedly said he was ready to form his own Big Three in the Big Apple with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Soon thereafter, news broke that Paul was planning his exit strategy. According to sources, he wanted out of New Orleans, and the Knicks were on his short list of preferred landing spots.
Since then, the Hornets brass and the star point guard have talked and seem to be moving forward together for now. New Orleans even traded away its rising backup point guard, Darren Collison, to acquire swingman Trevor Ariza. Still, 44 percent of our panelists believe Paul will somehow wind up in New York by the 2012-13 season anyway.
Paul would obviously be a fantastic fit in Mike D'Antoni's system. A pick-and-roll specialist who can score, push the pace and distribute with the best of them, he and Stoudemire would make the Knicks a force in the East with or without Melo.
But what would their supporting cast look like? And would they really have the cap space to acquire both Anthony and Paul. If the Hornets were willing to deal Paul, the Knicks, who have young talent and Eddy Curry's expiring contract to offer in a deal, would have to take on Emeka Okafor's contract, too. And in that case, their roster would otherwise be pretty much be depleted.
Then again, if the Knicks were able to add Melo next summer and then acquire Paul by trade or free agency, who's to say they couldn't surround their Big Three with role players the way the Heat have this summer?
Orlando Magic (16 votes)
Of our panelists, 17.2 percent think Paul will eventually force his way to Orlando, the top team on his wish list, according to Chris Broussard. Naturally, Paul wants to play with a dominant center, and a PG-C tandem of Paul and Dwight Howard would be devastating, perhaps one of the best in league history -- just look at what Paul accomplished with Tyson Chandler as his big man in New Orleans.
The Hornets are doing all they can to keep Paul happy, but if he still wants out, they'll have to listen to offers eventually unless they want a disgruntled face of the franchise. The Magic might be able to deliver the best deal out there, a package starting with All-Stars Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter, who has essentially just one year of guaranteed money left on his contract.
New Orleans Hornets (12 votes)
Only 12.9 percent of our voters think Paul will stay in New Orleans, despite the fact that after his meeting with Hornets management, he said in a statement: "I have been a Hornet my entire career and I hope to represent the city of New Orleans and state of Louisiana for many years to come."
But as currently constructed, the Hornets' roster will have a tough time getting out of the West -- in fact, the Hornets probably are going to have a tough time getting out of the lottery. And with the rest of his Olympic buddies all seemingly on title contenders, Paul is running out of patience.
Still, it's too early to tell what will happen. The Hornets have a new coach (Monty Williams) and a new general manager (Dell Demps) who come from winning organizations -- the Blazers and Spurs, respectively. They just made a deal for Trevor Ariza, who will be Paul's most athletic sidekick ever in New Orleans. And they have some flexibility with Peja Stojakovic's expiring contract and David West potentially opting out next summer.
So things could change quickly in New Orleans. Plus, it will be hard for him to leave a community he loves and a city in which he saved basketball, right?
Miami Heat (6 votes)
Could this really happen?
Sure, if Paul is willing to play for a price below market value, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be doing the next several seasons. How much less than the max would CP3 have to settle for? That remains to be seen, as the new collective bargaining agreement remains far from settled. But don't count out this option -- we've already seen that the friendships forged on Team USA can make a profound difference in how the game's top stars shape their careers.
And as hard to imagine as it is now, who's to say the Heat wouldn't be willing to break up their new threesome to bring CP3 aboard? Paul is especially tight with James -- in fact, he just signed with the marketing company headed by James' crew. And as we've seen, King James has a way of getting what he wants, whether it's popular or not.
Dallas Mavericks (4 votes)
CP3-Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-rolls, anyone? A handful of voters think Paul will be Jason Kidd's successor in Dallas, which is one of Paul's preferred destinations if things don't work out in New Orleans. With the Mavs having a couple of intriguing assets to use in a deal -- namely Rodrigue Beaubois and Tyson Chandler's expiring contract -- and the willingness to take on sizable contracts such as the one lugged around by Texas native Emeka Okafor, you can't count out Mark Cuban's club.
L.A. Lakers (4 votes)
With Kobe Bryant getting up there in years, it makes sense for the Lakers to try to acquire someone who can take over the playmaking duties. Why not another charismatic guard with a flashy game and big grin? If Paul requests a trade, the Hornets would have to listen to an offer that includes big man Andrew Bynum, no?
New Jersey Nets (4 votes)
The Nets were actively looking to trade for Paul in June in an attempt to lure LeBron to Jersey this summer. While that plan didn't come to fruition, the Nets still are in prime position to make a major play for a top star via trade or free agency.
Armed with cap space and young talent, the Nets could take Paul and Okafor off the Hornets' hands and send back a package including Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and Troy Murphy's expiring contract, for instance.
Also receiving votes: Portland (2), Boston (1), Houston (1), Oklahoma City (1), Not New Orleans (1).
Matt Wong is an NBA editor for ESPN.com.
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