If there ever would have been a time to make Chris Paul a Charlotte Bobcat, this wasn't it.
For years now, Bobcats fans have clamored for Paul to be the team's franchise player. It would have been silly to expect LeBron James or Dwight Howard to come here - neither has any real ties to the Carolinas or to Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.
Players sign where they can make the most money and where they have the best chance at championships. Little else matters.
But Paul could have been different. He is one of us.
He grew up in suburban Winston-Salem, so idolizing Jordan that a Jordan poster covered much of a wall in Paul's bedroom. A former Wake Forest star, he became an endorser for the Jumpman sneakers Jordan made famous. If Jordan Brand was good enough for Paul, then why not Bobcats brand, too?
Paul, 26, would have been a great fit. He is arguably the NBA's best point guard at a time when the league's strict enforcement of the hand-check rule makes a penetrator like Paul one of the game's most dangerous weapons.
Opponents can either watch Paul score, watch him find a teammate for a dunk, or foul him. As the Los Angeles Lakers saw in a six-game playoff escape last season, none of those are good alternatives.
Already a three-time All-Star, Paul has averaged 18.7 points and 9.9 assists over a six-season career
And now Paul wants out.
He has made it clear to the Hornets he won't re-sign there once his contract expires at the end of the season. A trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, which also involved the Houston Rockets, was nixed Thursday night by NBA Commissioner David Stern (the league collectively owns the Hornets, so Stern is the defacto ownership). Those teams were back at work Friday and Saturday, looking to reassemble a trade sufficiently to Stern's liking.
As of early Saturday night, the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets reportedly submitted a reworked version of their trade for Stern's approval.
The suitors for Paul stretched coast-to-coast: The Lakers and Golden State Warriors in the West, the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks in the Northeast. The Bobcats were never associated.
That's not a surprise, because to execute a trade for Paul and to feel that's the right long-term decision, the Bobcats, or anyone else, would have to accomplish two things that run counter to each other:
They would have to send enough to the Hornets that they feel they're getting back value for a superstar. Stern's veto of the last deal set a high bar.
And they would have to have enough talent left to convince Paul they are his best chance to win a championship ring or rings over the remainder of his NBA career.
In their current rebuilding mode, it's hard to see how the Bobcats could pull all that off.
As of Saturday morning, the Bobcats had financial obligations to 10 players (11 if you include a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Dante Cunningham). Add rookie-scale salaries for rookies Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker, and the Bobcats are roughly $6 million under the $58 million cap.
They could create more cap space by cutting a player such as Gana Diop under the amnesty system and saving about $7 million this season against the salary cap.
But this isn't so much about money as assets - those exchanged and those retained.
The best five young players for the Bobcats are the two rookies, plus Tyrus Thomas, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson. All decent rotation players, but none about to be an All-Star. The other tradeable asset is Boris Diaw's expiring contract, which could shave $9 million off the Hornets' payroll at the end of the upcoming season.
That doesn't compare with the Lakers, who can offer All-Star Pau Gasol and versatile forward Lamar Odom, or the Celtics, who could offer All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
And even if the Bobcats were able to assemble enough to make the Hornets happy, there wouldn't be much left to convince Paul his future in Charlotte is bright.
The Bobcats believe that, over time, they can leverage Jordan's magnetism into a destination for top players. They've said they'd pay what it takes to compensate a franchise talent.
Over the next three seasons, the Bobcats' payroll drops dramatically, so the money could be available.
Who is worth the Bobcats' pitch once Paul is elsewhere?
One possibility: Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.
He is already one of the NBA's most talented shooters and a gifted passer. He grew up in Charlotte and starred for Davidson. His father, former Hornets guard Dell, is the Bobcats' television color analyst. His new wife also grew up here.
Over those next three seasons, Curry's rookie-scale contract will move toward restricted, and then unrestricted, free agency.
In an interview with the Observer this fall, Curry said he'd consider a pitch by his hometown team should he ever reach unrestricted free-agency. He later tempered that response as hypothetical when it caused a minor frenzy in the Bay Area.
Like Paul, Curry is one of us.
Is that enough to someday turn him into a Bobcat?