Chris Paul and New York's hopes

The man who once held the hopes of Knicks fans in the palm of his hand will be in New York on Tuesday, right next to the man who now has replaced him in Knicks fans’ dreams. LeBron James and Chris Paul will join Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony to provide 800 meals for families in conjunction with Feed the Children and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

But while Anthony’s foundation is behind the event, it is Paul who likely will be the face of it, what with New York’s basketball faithful and, although they can never admit it publicly, New York’s basketball brass eager to see him in a Knicks uniform.

And unlike the situation with James, whom the city begged and pleaded to sign with the Knicks in 2010, visions of Paul in blue and orange are steeped in reality, not mere fantasy. Paul’s first choice by far is to team up with the Knicks’ Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to form yet another Eastern Conference big three, according to sources close to the situation.

The Knicks should have enough room beneath the salary cap next summer to offer Paul, who can become a free agent after this season, a contract starting around $13.5 million, just less than the maximum. And while New Orleans could offer him more money, Paul, like his buddies James and Wade did in 2010, will gladly take a little less to join the team of his choice.

But one team’s joy is another’s sorrow, and Paul’s current team, the poor, league-owned New Orleans Hornets, will of course do everything it can to avoid losing Paul for nothing. That means trying to trade him before or during this truncated 66-game season, according to sources.

Of course, the Hornets will first offer Paul a long-term contract extension as soon as the league’s new collective bargaining agreement is ratified and teams are given permission to speak with their players.

But once he turns that down and refuses to commit to them long term, they’ll have no choice but to begin shopping him in hopes of avoiding a sequel to the Melo-drama that took place in Denver last season.

Here’s the problem: No team is going to give up assets for Paul unless it can sign him to a long-term extension. And the one team Paul definitely would sign an extension with, the Knicks, has nothing of value -- outside of Anthony and Stoudemire -- to send to New Orleans in a trade.

There are, however, a few other teams Paul would consider signing extensions with, most notably the Los Angeles Clippers. Yes, the Clippers.

Now that Blake Griffin plays for L.A.’s other team, the Clippers have become a hot destination franchise. Stacked with young talent, they could offer any combination of Eric Gordon, Mo Williams, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu.

But while the Clippers like Paul, sources say they like Dwight Howard even more. The Clippers have made it clear to executives throughout the league that they will do whatever it takes -- outside of trading Griffin -- to get Howard, who will become a free agent at the same time as Paul, either this season or next summer. So they will not move the players they’ll try to use to get Howard to New Orleans for Paul.

There has been chatter about Paul being moved to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook, but that’s unlikely because the chances of Paul signing long term with the Thunder are slim. Although he enjoyed playing there for two years early in his career, Paul knows Oklahoma City doesn’t compare to the bright lights of New York.

The Atlanta Hawks are another team that could offer New Orleans an enticing package of, say, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague. It’s not known whether Paul would consider signing an extension with the Hawks but he is known to be fond of the city of Atlanta.

The bottom line is that this all will make it tough on New Orleans, which already is in dire straits with just five players currently under contract. The Hornets’ Plan A (re-sign Paul) is not going to happen, their Plan B (trade Paul before or early in the season) is unlikely and their Plan C (send him to New York in a sign-and-trade) will yield them hardly anything in terms of valuable assets.

But hey, it looks like things could turn out great for the Knicks.


League executives say the Utah Jazz's excitement over young big men Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors has them shopping Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. ... While Boston is not shopping Rajon Rondo, it would be open to trading him in the right deal, sources say. The Celtics feel they need more scoring to take the load off Paul Pierce.