The Hornets accomplished their biggest priority of the offseason Tuesday, agreeing in principle on a contract extension with All-Star point guard Chris Paul. The deal, which will be either four or five years and range from $60 million to $80 million, is expected to be finalized by Thursday.
Paul’s agent, Lance Young, said he will arrive in New Orleans today to work out details of the contract with Hornets General Manager Jeff Bower. By NBA rules, Paul cannot sign the deal until July 9.
“We’re going to try and get it done in the next 24 to 48 hours once I get down there,” Young said. “I think if you go back and look, there is nobody who did a three-year deal of all the max deals done in the last few years. I would say three years is not what he is going to do. It will be a four- or a five-year deal.”
Cleveland star LeBron James negotiated a three-year, $60 million extension in 2006, but he has an option for a fourth year either to remain with the Cavaliers or become a free agent. The Hornets could offer Paul the same option. Under league rules, Bower cannot discuss contract negotiations until July 9.
Paul has one year remaining on the contract he signed as a rookie in 2005, which will pay him $4.5 million next season until the extension goes into effect for 2009-10.
After the Hornets were eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs in May, Hornets owner George Shinn said signing Paul to a long-term deal was a priority.
Paul is the face of the franchise. After a season in which he participated in his first All-Star Game, which was hosted by New Orleans, and finished runner-up to the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant as the league’s most valuable player, Paul has become an emerging star. He has gotten several national endorsements and has a shoe contract with the Jordan Brand. He is as respected for his charitable endeavors and fan-friendly personality as he is for his play on the court.
The 6-foot point guard achieved a breakout season that led to the Hornets’ winning a franchise-record 56 games and their first playoff berth since the 2003-04 season.
He and Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, a two-time MVP, were the only players in the league to average at least 11.5 assists during a season in the past 13 years. Paul led the league with an average of 11.6 assists and also was first in steals at 2.7 per game. Paul is the first player in NBA history to lead the league in assists and steals, and averaged 21.1 points per game.
The Hornets sold out 19 of their final 24 games at the New Orleans Arena last season, and they have recruited 5,000 new season-ticket holders, the most in the National Basketball Association.
“He does pretty much everything and anything that we ask of him and the team,” Young said. “I’ve said from day one that he is a kid that sees the big picture. He knows when he needs to turn it on on the court and shake hands with a 65-year-old man who is a CEO with a company or if it’s the kid that is the ballboy at the McDonald’s (High School) All-American game, where he goes over and plays one-on-one with them. .¤.¤. It’s not fake. It’s just how he is as a person.”
Had Paul not agreed to accept the Hornets’ extension, he could have become a restricted free agent in July 2009. The Hornets, however, could have matched any offer from another team.
Hornets coach Byron Scott said after last week’s NBA draft that Paul was an enormous piece of the puzzle in their quest to become one of the elite teams in the league. Scott, who met with Paul before he signed a two-year extension last month to remain in New Orleans, said he hoped Paul and the team would reach an accord quickly.
“He knows we’re on the right track,” Scott said. “He’s the face of this franchise.”
Paul’s extension was the Hornets’ only significant move Tuesday, the first day of free agency. The team also is targeting Boston’s James Posey, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Corey Maggette and Detroit’s Jarvis Hayes as potential additions through free agency.