Paul: Focus on Hornets, not Knicks

Even as Chris Paul remained evasive about his future, he did what team leaders are expected to do.

He showed up at the Hornets’ suburban training center on the first day players were permitted to use team facilities for voluntary workouts since a tentative labor deal was reached last weekend – and he did so with a smile.

”I’ve got to be the happiest person in the world right now just to be back in the gym, getting a chance to work out with a couple of my teammates,” Paul said.

The star point guard is the subject of rampant trade talk because he can opt out of his contract after this season and become a free agent. If the Hornets are unable to persuade Paul to sign an extension, they may be inclined to deal him to another team, rather than let him simply walk in free agency.

”I don’t think about it, to tell you the truth,” Paul said of the trade rumors. ”I’m just ready to get out here and compete and hoop. This is what I do. I love it. I have a very tight circle and they know this whole lockout thing’s been driving me nuts, so I’m just happy to get out on the court and compete. This is the way that I express myself, by playing basketball, so I can’t wait to get out there.”

General manager Dell Demps declined to meet with reporters on Thursday, but has said that his top priority is to work on an extension with Paul.

Paul described various and mushrooming reports about where he might be traded as, ”Just rumors.”

”You can’t control it. It’s always going to happen. It’s part of the game,” Paul said. ”I’m just happy to be back with my team.”

Small forwards Trevor Ariza and Quincy Pondexter joined Paul at the team’s suburban training center. They worked out with Paul’s personal trainer, Idan Ravin, because they cannot work with team staff until the new labor agreement has been ratified.

New Orleans has only five players under contract. Center Emeka Okafor, who is traveling in Thailand, is expected back as soon as this weekend. Jarrett Jack was expected to join the workouts on Friday.

Shooting guard Marco Belinelli, a restricted free agent who has a tender offer from the Hornets, plans to arrive by Monday.

Demps, who was allowed to start discussing the frameworks of deals with agents on Wednesday, must fill out the rest of the roster through a compressed free agency period. If the new labor deal is ratified as expected, the Hornets open camp on Dec. 9.

The Hornets’ regular season schedule is expected to begin in late December but has not been officially set.

Paul said he thinks the Hornets’ priority should be to figure out whether free agent David West is willing to come back.

”That’s like a brother to me,” Paul said. ”I’ve never played a season without him.”