Picture Chris Paul in a Mavericks uniform.
That might make it easier for MFFLs to watch this weekend's home-and-home series with New Orleans if Paul dominates Dallas, as he does most times the Hornets and Mavs meet. But it's also a realistic scenario for next season.
The thought has apparently crossed Mark Cuban's mind. Rumor has it the Mavs brass let the powers that be in the Big Easy know before the trade deadline that they'd take the Hornets' two worst contracts off their hands in a package with Paul. I'd wager the value of Paul's four-year, max contract extension that kicks in next season that the Mavericks will put on the full-court press with that proposal this summer.
Acquiring Paul, a perennial MVP candidate who hasn't even hit his prime yet, and a couple of his overpaid pals would be a no-brainer basketball deal for the Mavs. For the Hornets, such a deal would make sense only because of the dollars.
The Hornets are a prime example of a team that might have to make a desperate, cost-cutting deal due to the economy. They play in a small market still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and are in luxury-tax territory. That awful combination led them to trade Tyson Chandler for spare parts in the middle of a playoff race, although Oklahoma City's doctors ultimately vetoed that deal.
Cuban can put together a heck of a bailout package for the Hornets, the bulk of which would consist of the expiring contracts of Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard and Erick Dampier.
(Quick contract primer: Stackhouse is on the books for $7 million next season, but he can be bought out for $2 million, making him especially attractive to cost-cutting teams. Howard is due $10.89 million next season and has a team option for 2010-11. Dampier, who didn't reach the incentives to guarantee his 2010-11 salary, will make $12.12 million next season.)
Who would the Hornets want to get rid of so badly that they'd be willing to part with Paul? Peja Stojakovic ($13.39 million next season and $14.26 in 2010-11) would definitely be part of the deal. Chandler ($12.3 next season and $13.2 in 2010-11) probably would be included, too. Morris Peterson (due a total of $12 million over the next two seasons) or James Posey ($19.5 million over three seasons) are other possibilities.
Stojakovic's contract ranks among the worst in the league. He's had a very good career, but he's an oft-injured 40-percent jump shooter these days. But he is the starting small forward for a playoff team.
The Mavs would probably prefer to take Chandler, even with his massive contract, over Peterson or Posey. He'd provide an instant upgrade over Dampier and give Paul the comfort of continuing to work with his pogo-stick pick-and-roll partner. Chandler's athletic, gritty style -- rebounding, blocking shots and finishing -- would be a perfect complement for Dirk's game.
If it's Posey, the Mavs would be getting a savvy role player who has a couple of rings. If it's Peterson, well, that's a small price to pay for the league's best point guard.
Add it all up, including the millions saved by buying out Stack and avoiding the luxury tax (plus the $3 million Cuban seems to toss in with every trade), and this trade trims around $100 million from the Hornets' expenses over the years. That could be tough to turn down for a business-minded owner like George Shinn, especially if New Orleans fans don't pack their arena for playoff games.
For a basketball-minded owner like Cuban, the chance to make Paul a Maverick is worth pursuing.
Cuban has repeatedly said the Mavs will be "opportunistic" in the trade market and are willing to take on salary if the right situation presents itself. This is the kind of deal Cuban is referring to -- actually, this is the best-case scenario of that kind of deal.
"I want to win," Cuban said last night when asked about his willingness to take on significant salaries under the right circumstances. "If I think it puts us over the top, hell yeah. I'll just go get another job at Dairy Queen."
It's not just talk coming from the brash billionaire. Cuban proved with the Jason Kidd trade last season that he's willing to write the necessary checks to significantly improve the Mavs' chances of winning.
OK, so the Kidd deal hasn't panned out as planned. Hey, if Cuban can get Paul here, Devin Harris will be a distant memory.