The New Orleans Hornets have yet to start entertaining trade offers for Chris Paul, but that hasn't stopped the superstar point guard from making exit plans.
The Orlando Magic have emerged as the top team on Paul's list of preferred destinations, replacing the New York Knicks, according to league sources.
While the Knicks are still high on Paul's list, he believes the Magic, with All-Star center Dwight Howard, would be a better fit. Paul also realizes Orlando has much more to offer New Orleans in a trade and therefore believes it is a more realistic destination than New York, according to the sources.
Paul will meet with Hornets president Hugh Weber, new general manager Dell Demps and new head coach Monty Williams to discuss the future direction of the club. The Hornets hope to convince Paul to give the new regime a chance, but sources say he is fully expected to present New Orleans with a list of teams he would like to be traded to.
In addition to Orlando and New York, Dallas and Portland are on Paul's list. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Friday that Paul's agent Leon Rose reached out to all four teams this week.
While New Orleans currently has no plans to trade Paul, the club also realizes how problematic it would be to have Williams start his coaching career with a disgruntled star.
That's why the Hornets may indeed decide to trade Paul even though he has two years left on his contract. But New Orleans would not limit itself to the four clubs on Paul's list. Instead, New Orleans would look for the best deal for its franchise, according to league sources.
New Jersey and Charlotte are known to be among the many teams that would make offers for Paul. Some league sources believe New Orleans would insist that Hornets center Emeka Okafor, who has four years and $52 million left on his contract, be included in any deal for Paul.
Orlando is one of several teams that called New Orleans about trading for Paul earlier this summer, but under former GM Jeff Bower the Hornets refused to consider moving the three-time All-Star. League executives are now wondering if that stance will change under Demps.
New Orleans has not listened to proposals yet, and most clubs will likely wait until after Monday's meeting to begin making offers. Orlando has not had trade discussions with the Hornets regarding Paul, according to sources.
Paul's desire to play in New York is largely tied to Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets' star. Both players would like to team with new Knick Amare Stoudemire to form a Big Three that could rival Miami's trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
But while such a scenario is possible, it will be difficult to pull off. First, Anthony must turn down Denver's three-year, $65 million extension offer, which is something most league insiders don't believe he will do. Then, the Knicks must put together a package for Paul that entices the Hornets without eating up all the future cap space they would use to sign Anthony as a free agent next summer. If the Knicks took back Okafor with Paul, signing Anthony as a free agent in 2011 would be impossible.
Beyond that, sources say New Orleans may be unlikely to send Paul to New York because so many other teams could present better offers.
Orlando, with point guard Jameer Nelson and former All-Star Vince Carter, who has only one year of guaranteed money left on his contract, is one such team. And a pairing of Paul and Howard would unquestionably make the Magic a title contender.
Chris Broussard is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine.