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Double Or Nothing: How The Clippers Contained Damian Lillard

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On Thursday night, we were treated to another thriller: an overtime game between a pair of elite teams in the West. On one side, there were the Clippers - a team lead by the league's best point guard in Chris Paul, as well as one of the best power forwards in Blake Griffin. On the other side, there were the Blazers - the most surprising team thus far in the NBA season, lead by someone who many believe has been better than Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as Damian Lillard, a potential all-star in just his second year in the league.

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Looks Like Paul’s Staying in the Big Easy

Cross off Chris Paul as a potential franchise trade target for this season. After what happened today, it looks like he’ll be a Hornet at least until he becomes a free agent in 2012.

Early Wednesday, the New Orleans Hornets, New Jersey Nets, Houston Rockets, and Indiana Pacers agreed on a four-team trade that involves a number of notable personnel moves. Here’s the breakdown of what each team got:

Hornets get: Trevor Ariza (from Rockets)

Nets get: Troy Murphy (from Pacers)

Rockets get: Courtney Lee (from Nets)

Pacers get: Darren Collison and James Posey (from Hornets)

The ostensible winners of this deal are the Pacers, who get the long-awaited point guard in Collison — who’s quite a catch — and the defensively sound Posey. With Collison, Danny Granger, and first-round pick Paul George, the Pacers are developing quite a stock of young talent.

The Hornets make a move to appease Paul, getting rid of his surprisingly talented competition at point guard and adding a seasoned defender and shooter to help the team in the short term. It’s evident now that Paul won’t be going anywhere in a deal, as New Orleans no longer has the safety net of Collison to fill Paul’s absence.

For the Rockets, this move starts to clear up a potential power struggle at the wing position, as Ariza wants to be a top option and Kevin Martin already is. Now there’s no doubt in Houston who the No. 1 scorer is. Lee adds defensive toughness for the Kobe Bryants of the Western Conference, and he showed in Orlando that his shooting can be an asset when he’s a fourth or fifth option.

As for the Nets, this move is all about the future. While the move does a lot to constrict their cap space for this season, Murphy is only a temporary solution at power forward so that Derrick Favors has a year to develop coming off the bench and making spot starts if Murphy can’t play. Furthermore, Murphy’s expiring $11.1 million deal makes the pursuit of Carmelo Anthony next summer more of a viable option.

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Would the Hornets Really Deal Paul?

January 20, 2010: Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets in action against the Memphis Grizzlies during an NBA game in the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA. Tyler Kaufman/CSM.

Source: Yardbarker.com

Rumors have surfaced recently that the New Orleans Hornets are contemplating dealing Chris Paul, the best player on the team and the cornerstone of the franchise. In 2009-2010, he missed a handful of games as a result of a meniscus injury, and during his time on the court his performance was down. Even so, would it be worthwhile to part ways with him?

Clearly, the emergence of Darren Collison as a fantastic passer in the league next year would soften the blow of a swap of Paul. In addition, the team is in rebuilding mode after a rather unflattering campaign, so getting rid of CP3′s contract would help the cause.

Of late, the New Jersey Nets, among other teams, have been the subject of reports relating to Paul. Some sources have said that the Nets made an offer of Devin Harris and the No. 3 overall pick in this Thursday’s draft for the superstar point guard.

That swap doesn’t seem to make much sense. Not only would acquiring Harris keep Collison in a second-string role and hinder his development, but it also wouldn’t be ideal from a salary-cutting perspective either. He still has a few years left on his current deal, and with the amount he’s getting paid, it’s not exactly relief to take on his contract.

Aside from the salary implications of dealing Paul, there’s just so much to miss if he’s gone. He’s a wizard on the court, and just last year he was drawing some nominations as the league’s best player ahead of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Just because he had one down year clearly resulting from injuries doesn’t mean he’s down for the count — he’s very likely to rebound and return to his franchise-player form.

In addition, his presence on the team is an instant marketing tool and a draw for fans. People like to watch Chris Paul play, and considering the state of the Hornets franchise, they could stand to put some butts in the seats.

Lastly, some have suggested that Paul could be an enticing factor for top-tier free agents. While New Orleans isn’t in a position to sign one of the many stars in this July’s class, they could position themselves to make a run at Carmelo Anthony next summer or someone else down the road. Certainly those players wouldn’t remind receiving pinpoint pass after pinpoint pass from one of the best quarterbacks in the NBA.

To be honest, I’m not taking the bait. I really don’t think the Hornets will trade him, and if they do, they’d better get equal value. Harris and the No. 3? I’m sorry, but that’s not enough.

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Expectation Series: Part 4 (Most Surprising Players)

Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.

Hornets point guard Darren Collison has filled in brilliantly during Chris Paul's absences this season.

For every player who underachieves each season, there is another who exceeds expectations to compensate. And this year is no exception. In selecting my top five, I tried to avoid rookies (who really don’t have clearly defined projections), though I couldn’t help but include my No. 1. So here’s the list.

No. 5 — Kevin Durant

Everyone knew going in that Kevin Durant was a fearless and unstoppable scorer. But who really thought that we’d be seriously considering him as MVP if LeBron James weren’t playing? Durantula added four-and-a-half points to his per-game scoring rate and may very well win the scoring title. In addition, he’s nearly flawless at the line, has improved his rebounding, and can hit the big shot. And believe it or not, he can still improve. If he can get his field-goal percentage over 50 percent and shoot over 40 percent on threes, he’ll truly be in the elite category. Let’s see if he has the ability to lead his team to victory in the playoffs this year.

No. 4 — Andray Blatche

Andray Blatche’s performance has gone more or less unnoticed because of his playing on a terrible, terrible team. If you look at his per-40-minute averages, they are rather impressive. He’s posting nearly 20 points and nine boards per 40 minutes. As a starter, he’s averaging over 20 points a game. While Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison were in town, he didn’t have a chance to shine. Maybe while Washington is rebuilding, he can let the world know he’s ready to stand out at the highest level with the right playing time.

No. 3 — David Lee

David Lee’s improvement this season has come mostly in the scoring department. He could rebound last year, and he has carried that over to this season. But he’s scoring over 20 a game, and his high PER reflects that, all while playing out of position at the 5. Hopefully he can sign with a serious team next year and wreak some serious havoc when the games actually matter.

No. 2 — Andrew Bogut

Andrew Bogut is what situated the Milwaukee Bucks in prime playoff position for 2010. Now that he’s out for the rest of the season, they don’t stand too much hope of advancing beyond the first round. The former first-overall pick began to justify his draft selection, adding 16 points and 10 rebounds a contest to his team’s line. Moreover, his defense was stellar. He contributed 2.5 blocks a game and began to develop a Dwight Howard-esque effect on opponents’ shots whenever they were foolish enough to enter the paint. Bogut will be back next year with a healthy Michael Redd, so he should be able to do the same again for the Deer.

No. 1 — Darren Collison

As I mentioned above, it is tough to include rookies on this list because their abilities aren’t really evident with no experience in the league. In this case, what chance does a point guard playing behind Chris Paul have of succeeding in his first professional campaign? That said, Darren Collison, the 21st-overall pick out of UCLA, has played magnificently this year. Paul has missed a lot of time with injures, and Collison has capitalized. His per-game averages over the course of the season aren’t terribly impressive, but if you limit the scope to the games he’s started, it becomes more glaring. His stat line in games started: 18.4 points, 9 assists, 3.6 boards, 1.4 steals, 47 percent shooting, 41 percent from deep, and 85 percent from the charity stripe. The dude needs to get out of New Orleans, because he doesn’t deserve to be playing behind CP3; he’s way too good.

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