Published September 27, 2010
In time, the club may even regain their star guard's affection.
"I think what excites me is the unknown, not knowing what to expect," Paul said Monday on the eve of the Hornets' first day of training camp. "Anyone who says they know what our team is going to do this season, they're lying. They're lying because we've made so many changes and adjustments."
Over the summer, Paul expressed interest in being traded if the Hornets failed to show they were committed to competing for a championship right away.
Meanwhile, the club hired new coach Monty Williams, new general manager Dell Demps, and added a number of new players including small forward Trevor Ariza, shooting guard Marco Belinelli, point guards Willie Green and Jannero Pargo and first-round draft choice and swing player Quincy Pondexter.
While Green will enter training camp projected to be the first point guard off the bench, the acquisition of Pargo could be more symbolic of Paul's comfort level with the direction of the new regime.
Paul and Pargo are friends. Pargo also was Paul's backup in 2007-08, the best season in the history of the franchise. The Hornets won a franchise record 56 games that season, captured their first Southwest Division title and came within one victory of advancing to the Western Conference finals. Since then, they've slid backward, narrowly making the playoffs in 2008-09 and missed the playoffs last season, when Paul missed 37 games with various injuries. Pargo meanwhile, has spent two injury plagued seasons aboard and with Chicago.
"To have JP back is great. Obviously there's a comfort level for me," Paul said. "His energy and what he brought to the team and the city was something that was special."
Pargo said he directs conversations with Paul away from trade rumors and the business of the NBA, but added that he had little doubt Paul's confidence in the organization was starting to grow again.
"Right now, I know he's happy. He loves this town and the city loves him. This is where he wants to be and he's happy right now," Pargo said. "The fact that I'm here means he's happy and we feel like this team can win. You can read into that, and say that, because we're really good friends and we play well together and we want to try to get this team back to the where it was before I left."
Paul is wearing a captain's "C'' on his jersey, as is power forward David West, who said he thought Paul was just being honest about his dissatisfaction with the Hornets' inability to compete with upper echelon teams such as the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, Boston or Orlando.
"Guys just want an opportunity to win, and if you're going to beat those four or five (elite) teams, you're going to need some gunners, so that's what it came down to," West said.
"We've got to be honest. We're not in that discussion" of elite teams, West said. "We've got to get ourselves in the top-10-in-the-West discussion. There's just no need to try to lie or try to be kind of living in this fantasy world about who and what we are. You know what the NBA landscape is and ... it's going to take a lot of work to get there."
Shortly after Williams took over as coach, he said he would not have been interested in the job if he did not think Paul was going to be around. He and Paul spoke in the offseason, and Paul seemed to like what he heard, using the word, "unbelievable," to describe his impression of his new, 38-year-old rookie coach.
"His basketball knowledge is something that is really great. Him playing in this league is really good," Paul said "The respect that I have for him as a man goes far beyond what I like about him as a basketball enthusiast."
Williams said he is tired of discussing whether Paul wants to remain with the Hornets and is ready to start coaching.
"My focus has to shift to the team. (Paul has) been a professional, as he's been his whole career, and with all the speculation, it makes you wonder about things you shouldn't even wonder about," Williams said.
"This is going to be the last time I talk about it, because, to be honest, it's getting old," Williams continued. "I just want to get to talking about the team and how Chris is going to benefit in our system more so than talking about whether a guy is happy or not. The NBA, unfortunately, can make guys unhappy for a long time — and that goes for everybody. So my prayer is that he's happy. That's what I'm believing. ... He's always been upbeat with me, and that's what I look forward to."