NEW ORLEANS -- Unlike his friend LeBron James, Chris Paul won't have to worry about how he'll be received whenever he returns to New Orleans after he leaves as a free agent in 2012 mainly because if he leaves, that franchise probably will cease to exist. But in the meantime, as Ian Thomsen wrote in last week's Sports Illustrated, with the Hornets playing outstanding basketball for rookie coach Monty Williams, Paul is more content these days with the Hornets compared to the offseason, when he wad the itch to follow James' lead and jump to a bigger stage.

Will that stage be New York? The Knicks signed Paul's 2005 draft classmate, Raymond Felton, to a two-year contract that could be viewed as bringing in someone to keep the seat warm until 2012. Felton, who is an extremely competitive and proud person, is well aware of this notion. He wouldn't admit there is any more emphasis on Friday's game here against Paul, even though there is. The two went head-to-head several times already in their NBA careers and were rivals in the ACC.

"I've got a tough matchup every night," Felton said. "Point guard ain't no joke."

But was Paul's toast at Carmelo Anthony's wedding this summer a joke? As you recall, we first reported the day after the star-studded, New York wedding -- just days after LeBron announced he was taking his talents to South Beach to unite with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- that Paul raised a glass and offered the plan for he and Carmelo to join Amar'e Stoudemire in New York "to form our own Big Three" with the Knicks.

"We was there having a good time," Paul told Thomsen. "You're joking around, all different types of stuff is said."

Carmelo also suggested the toast was in jest, as he told AOL Fanhouse, "It was just everybody having a good time, laughing and joking."

Time will tell if this was all just a joke, but perhaps the Heat's early struggles and the PR-nightmare LeBron continues to endure are cautionary tales for future plans among Superfriends.

Give credit to Stoudemire, who in the summer openly talked about making recruiting pitches to Tony Parker, Carmelo and Chris Paul but now rejects talk of the possible arrivals of reinforcements as intensely as he stops driving dunk attempts. And when you as him if he misses Steve Nash, Stoudemire will tell you how much he loves playing with Raymond Felton.

With the Knicks, it's always about who they don't have, who they used to have, who they might be able to get and so on. There's something good happening with this group right now and a big part of the reason is because of the strong play they're getting at that point guard position.

Paul's grumpy summer may have been merely a ploy to get the Hornets more proactive about building a winning team after the franchise started to slip a little. Or he seriously is thinking about his future, playing in a bigger market and with all-star teammates on a team built to win a championship.

Flying under the radar through all of this, of course, is arguably the best point guard from that '05 class, Deron Williams, who will also have freedom in 2012.

Either way, both players still have two seasons to go before he can decide what they wants to do. Until then, Raymond Felton has an opportunity to eliminate the Knicks as an option for either and give the team a reason to think that money available in 2012 would be better spent improving another area of the roster.

DON'T MISS THIS LIMITED-TIME OFFER1 5 months for only $1Save on Unlimited Digital Access