Chris Paul's future in New Orleans is looking more and more uncertain.
His best sidekick and the team's top scorer, David West, could potentially depart this offseason, leaving the Hornet's frontcourt very thin.
West has an early termination option for the last year of his contract which he will likely exercise to try and earn more in the free agent market than the $9 million he is set to receive from the Hornets' next season.
If West decides to leave, Paul will probably ask to be traded. The one-time MVP is looking for his first championship and unless the Hornets can replace the All-Star forward with serious talent, Paul may feel that he needs to take his talents elsewhere for a chance at a ring as he can be a free agent at the end the 2011-2012 season.
Even if the Hornets re-sign West this offseason, Paul may still not be convinced that they have enough talent to be serious contenders in a very deep Western Conference. The Hornets may be forced to trade Paul to avoid being devastated the way Cleveland was by LeBron James's departure.
General managers of other teams have been questioning Paul's availability for years, but next season's teams will start pursuing the elite guard with renewed earnest.
Here's a look at five teams that will be looking to try and add Paul to their rosters next season and what they could offer the Hornets in return. (Expect teams to sweeten the deal with additional players.)
Los Angeles Lakers:
The Lakers would love to add an elite point guard that could distribute the ball, take over ball handling duties, and guard the West's top guards, which would take much of the pressure off an aging Kobe Bryant and allow him to work as an off-ball scorer. That being said, the Lakers would have to give up a lot of value to convince the Hornets to trade to a Western Conference rival.
Potential Trade: Chris Paul for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
Paul has mentioned that he would consider returning to his native North Carolina if he becomes a free agent in 2013. The Hornets could trade him in a preemptive move to ensure that they got some talent and cap relief in return for one of the best point guards of this generation.
Potential Trade: Chris Paul and the expiring contract of Quincy Pondexter for D.J. Augustin, Tyrus Thomas, Stephen Jackson, and a first round draft pick. (Doesn't seem like enough, but Paul might force the issue like Carmelo Anthony did with the Knicks. Plus, The Hornets would add a great deal of cap room.)
The Magic are desperate to convince Dwight Howard to stay. If they could convince Paul to join him in Orlando, Howard would probably resign. The Magic don't have much that they could offer the Hornets in return but a starting lineup of Paul, Howard, and not much else, is better than one that features neither of those names.
Potential Trade: Chris Paul and Marco Belinelli for Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, and two future first round picks. (Again, the Hornets would get much-needed salary cap space.)
Portland Trail Blazers:
With Brandon Roy's career derailed by knee injuries, the Trail Blazers must build around rising star LaMarcus Aldridge. Having Paul to distribute and take up most of the ball-handling duties would allow Roy to play as an off-ball scorer and around his physical limitations. The Blazers could give the Hornets enormous cap relief as well as a rising star in Wesley Matthews.
Potential Trade: Chris Paul and Emeka Okafor for Wesley Matthews and Andre Miller's and Marcus Camby's expiring contracts.
New York Knicks:
Paul is great friends with Anthony, and joining forces with Amar'e Stoudemire at the Garden would create a devastating offensive triumvirate that could challenge Miami and Chicago for Eastern Conference supremacy for years to come. The Knicks don't have much to offer the Hornets in return, since the roster is gutted from the Anthony trade and they can't give up any draft picks before 2018.
Potential Trade: Chris Paul for Chauncey Billups, Toney Douglas, and Landry Fields.
Any or all of these teams could be in the mix for Paul if and when the Hornets start shopping bids for him.
Of course point guards with Paul's talent and potential don't hit the trade market very often so expect a lot of teams to be interested and for the Hornets to try and make sure they get the best value in return. They will up their offers from the ones above.