NBA rumors: Teams eager to unload giant contracts?

According to sources, with the pandemic creating an economic crisis for the NBA, teams might be eager to unload their giant contracts. Because the cap won’t be as high, the luxury tax looms larger. OKC has been fearful of the luxury tax, having once dumped James Harden.

More on Chris Paul Trade?

There is so much uncertainty with the coronavirus pandemic, but one thing is for sure: the salary cap will be lowered, according to league sources. On the surface, that makes it advantageous to build around younger players on cheaper contracts. That said, if Rose has young assets to tempt the Thunder this offseason, sliding Paul into cap space will be easier than fitting in a top free agent. That’s because the Knicks would have to give up pacts such as those of Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox to make the trade.
Acquiring Paul shouldn’t be complicated for the Knicks. They have enough salary-filler to get CP3 and adequate young players and future draft picks to interest the Thunder. The Knicks only need to send out $32.987,051 in salary to acquire Paul’s $41,358,814 cap hit for 2020-21. They can guarantee a combination of Taj Gibson ($9.45 million), Wayne Ellington ($8 million), Elfrid Payton ($8 million), and Reggie Bullock ($4.2 million), and package them with one or two of their young players to reach the minimum outgoing salary amount.
Paul received a warm welcome at Madison Square Garden after a report emerged Thursday that the Knicks were "gathering intel" on the 10-time All-Star. Asked after Friday's game if he's ever imagined playing for the Knicks, Paul wasn't interested in entertaining the idea. "Man, I imagine playing in Boston on Sunday," Paul said in reference to Oklahoma City's next opponent. "That’s the only thing I think about."
Chris Paul said the suggestions that he’s joining the Knicks are a diversion from the franchise’s latest embarrassing episode. While walking into Madison Square Garden before Friday’s game against New York, the Thunder guard was approached by a league employee and asked about the rumors. “They’re trying to take attention away from that Spike Lee stuff,” Paul responded as the exchange was caught on SNY.
Last spring, then-agent Leon Rose was intrigued by the notion of the Rockets offering up his client Chris Paul to the Knicks, according to a league source. A report arose last June the Knicks had turned down the Rockets’ offer of Paul and his four-year, $159 million contract. Paul was eventually traded to Oklahoma City in a superstar swap for Russell Westbrook and is having a throwback season at age 34 — capped by a terrific performance in last month’s All-Star Game that included an athletic alley-oop slam.
According to an NBA source, Paul adores Rose, and a SiriusXM report surfaced Thursday that the Knicks are doing intel on the veteran point guard. Not that they need a lot of information — Paul had been with Rose at Creative Artists Agency for much of his career.
As one NBA executive put it, “Are the Knicks going to do their plan from 2010 10 years later? They get Chris, Melo and maybe Amar’e will come out of retirement.’’ Another team personnel man doesn’t see it as crazy. “The East is up for grabs,’’ he said. “If you make a few good changes … [Chris] has been pretty amazing, off the charts what he’s done to get the team winning, taking the leadership of a new team. He’s still burning to win a championship.”
Sure, he’s playing for a team he said didn’t want to be traded to. But his teammates haven’t seen anything to indicate that Paul would rather be elsewhere. “It’s not even something to avoid, because there’s nothing there to avoid,” Bazley says of the trade speculation. “No one in the locker room, coaches, staff—and I’m confident I can speak for everyone—has a thought in their head. Chris has bought in, and there’s nothing lingering around, because there’s nothing that he gives off.”
With Dwight Howard successfully reunited with the Lakers, what about Chris Paul? "That's a lot of salary to match, the Clippers would have to include Beverley, and the Thunder fans aren't going to want that," he said, referring to the incident when Westbrook suffered a season-ending injury after colliding with Beverley in the 2013 playoffs.
At this point, Miami’s interest in Paul is extinct, according to league sources. Miami is more likely to chase someone like Jrue Holiday, multiple front office executives believe.
Oklahoma City is a difficult read. "I'm not certain they are sellers," one Eastern Conference executive said. "I think they try to make the playoffs." A different executive in the East doesn't agree and is confident the Thunder are open to offers for both Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari.
After polling executives, the league-wide sense is that Paul will remain with the Thunder this season simply because of his enormous contract. While it’s theoretically possible that Paul could agree to turn down his $44 million player option for 2021-22 to grease the wheels on a potential trade, right now, that is the longest of long shots. Besides overcoming the idea of giving up 44 million buckaroos, Paul is also the president of the players’ union and it would be a bad look to set that precedent of turning down that amount of money to make it more palatable to a team.
As it stands now, the Heat aren’t expected to make a run at Paul, per multiple sources. They like their locker room chemistry and aren’t actively looking to shake it up. More importantly, Paul’s contract complicates Miami’s potential future. Paul will be 35 years old in May and is due $41.4 million next season and will be 37 when he’s due $44.2 million. A glamour market like Miami doesn’t need to make trades to acquire a star. Smaller markets like Utah, Charlotte and Portland do.
Speaking of the Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC remains a playoff contender even after trading Westbrook and Paul George last offseason. The Thunder are just 11-12, but that’s good enough today for the 7-seed in the West. Despite their moderate success, plans haven’t changed; Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, and other veterans are all available, according to league sources.
The questions about where Paul will hoop are going to follow him through this season’s trade deadline. And if he’s not moved, then they’ll track him through the summer. Rival executives don’t see a robust market for Paul, particularly when you view him as a 34-year-old with more than $80 million and two more years left on his contract.
That leaves Milwaukee, which has been the subject of Paul trade rumors since the July deal that brought CP3 to OKC. The theory goes that the Bucks need to go all-in on this season, with Giannis Antetokounmpo up for free agency in 2021. But the Bucks are playing great, 10-3, and Milwaukee never is ready to jump into the luxury tax. Taking on Paul’s salary would put the Bucks in luxury tax jeopardy not necessarily this season, but in years to come.
The Lakers remain the team most likely to covet Paul. Money is no object to the Lakers. And while Davis and LeBron are going great guns, Davis is injury-prone and LeBron is almost 35. Paul would be an insurance policy. Of course, the Lakers don’t have a lot to offer. They can’t trade a first-round pick until 2026, and outside of Kyle Kuzma, LA has no young talent that would interest the Thunder.
Mark Medina: The Thunder would love to trade Chris Paul before the trade deadline so they can hoard even more young talent and draft picks. Other teams are reluctant to acquire Paul given his age, injury history and contract, so that might not happen. So for now, the Thunder has embraced leaning on Paul to keep the team competitive and mentor Shai-Gilgeous Alexander.
But league sources fully expect the Thunder to explore trading Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari to continue their rebuild following the Russell Westbrook and Paul George blockbusters this summer. Trading Gallinari wouldn’t be difficult, provided he’s healthy. Finding a new home for Paul will be tough. He’s 34, has an injury history, and is owed $124 million over the next three years. That deal is terrifying. Paul can help himself and the Thunder out by excelling this season. All it takes is one team to bite.
The Heat have a level of interest in Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul entering the NBA season, league sources said. Paul had shared a strong mutual interest in ending up in Miami after his trade to the Thunder — but the sides could not agree to a deal and now OKC is prepared for Paul to enter training camp as a veteran star and leader.
Paul has three years left on his monster contract. He’ll make $38,506,482 next season, $41,358,814 in 2020-21 and has a player option worth $44,211,146 for the 2021-22 season. Paul and the Thunder likely won’t agree to a buyout, as CP3 would have to give up a lot of money. “Here’s what executives expect to happen: They expect the Thunder to put out a message that, ‘We’re not looking to trade Chris Paul. We want him here.’ Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re in panic trying to trade him,” Windhorst said on ESPN’s The Jump. “And they wanna hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul.”
Maddie Lee: Sam Presti on Chris Paul: "I think he has an opportunity to really impact the team in a positive way." He would not estimate how long Paul will be with the Thunder.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the only way the Heat are going to take on Paul’s monster contract from the Thunder is if the future Hall of Famer agrees to decline that lucrative 2021-22 player option. “The other thing I heard was that it was basically if Chris wanted to get traded to the Heat now, he would maybe have had to been willing to decline his player option,” Windhorst said on the Hoop Collective Podcast.
Multiple sources told The Athletic last week that the Thunder traded Westbrook for Paul along with two draft picks and two pick-swap options, fully comfortable with the idea that Paul could be on the roster this season. And ESPN on Wednesday reported there’s an “increasing expectation” Paul will start the season in Oklahoma City given the limited trade suitors for his considerable contract.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's discussions to move nine-time All-Star guard Chris Paul to a new destination are parked, and an increasing expectation exists that he will start the season with the team, league sources tell ESPN.
Oklahoma City has been working with Paul and his representatives on finding a trade, but nothing is materializing so deep into summer free agency, sources said. Both sides believe there are benefits to Paul, 34, playing out the season with the Thunder. For now, there's a belief that there could be more success exploring trade scenarios again after Dec. 15 -- or even the completion of the 2019-20 season, league sources said.
For now, Oklahoma City doesn't feel a need to surrender draft compensation to unload Paul's contract, sources said. The Thunder want to be competitive and believe that Paul can serve as a mentor to Gilgeous-Alexander, a second-year guard who's considered the franchise's future playmaker.
Adrian Wojnarowski: OKC has been working with Chris Paul and his representatives on finding a trade, but nothing is materializing so deep into summer free agency, sources said. Both sides believe there are benefits to Paul, 34, playing out the year with the Thunder.
Barry Jackson: ... Heat knew deal made no sense for them otherwise because it would have restricted 2021 flexibility. Level of enthusiasm for Paul inside the Heat has been far below level of enthusiasm for Westbrook before Westbrook was traded
Jonathan Feigen: Thunder GM Sam Presti, in the statement on Chris Paul: "Getting a player of Chris’ caliber gives us another experienced playmaker and leader, while the additional draft picks continue to allow us to further commit to the long-term vision that we are embarking on for the Thunder.”
So yes, the Heat will need some incentive to take on that hefty contract, and it appears they’re asking for just that. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst appeared on “SportsCenter” Monday night, reporting that Miami is Paul’s preferred destination. One catch — they want their picks back. OKC holds two of Miami’s future first-round selections and, according to Windhorst, the Heat want those included in a potential deal.
“When you talk about him potentially going to the Miami Heat, which is his preference, one thing I’ve been told in the talks; the fact that the Thunder hold the two of the Heat’s first-round picks in the future — unprotected 2021, protected 2023 — makes this a difficult conversation because the Heat want those picks back,” Windhorst said. “The Thunder have expressed an interest in giving one of those picks back but they would want another pick farther off into the future. So I do think that these teams have a lot to talk about.”
Rick Bonnell: I’ve been told the Hornets don’t want Paul’s contract. It’s dramatically longer and larger than Batum’s. And with Rozier here, what purpose would that trade serve?
Barry Jackson: OKC, to this point, has offered nothing enticing enough to seriously interest Heat in Chris Paul talks. Heat won't close door if that changes, but this is OKC trying to move Paul, not Heat actively pursuing player
Miami would need to be absolutely overwhelmed to consider taking on the final three years and $124 million of Paul’s contract, considering the veteran point guard’s age (34) and lack of durability. Paul has missed 21, 24 and 24 games the past three seasons, and as ESPN’s Dan Le Batard noted, the Heat entered the offseason hesitant to commit big money to aging stars.
Multiple sources said the Thunder are comfortable with the idea of Paul on the roster next season. A core of Paul, Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari — acquired along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the George trade — might not be good enough to make the playoffs nor bad enough to bottom out in the lottery.
Maddie Lee: Even if the Thunder does keep Chris Paul for the remainder of his contract, they'll save money in 2022-23. Paul is owed $124 million over the next three seasons. Westbrook has four years and $170 million left on his contract (player option in the final year).
Presti already is working with Paul's agents at CAA Sports -- Leon Rose and Steven Heumann -- to redirect the nine-time All-Star to a new team, league sources tell ESPN. The Heat are prominent in the conversations, but there are other possibilities also being explored, sources said. Presti and Rose worked together last year on a similar situation with Carmelo Anthony.
There also could be a group of high-end restricted free agents in that summer of 2021, including Donovan Mitchell, De’Aaron Fox, Lauri Markkanen, and Jayson Tatum. The Heat loves Beal — a UF grad and longtime admirer of Dwyane Wade — and is expected to be a serious contender for him in 2021 if he doesn’t sign an extension with Washington. Though ESPN said Miami is now a possibility to take on the last three years and $124 million of Paul’s contract, that would leave the Heat without the cap space to sign a free agent in 2021 unless Miami traded for one of those 2021 free agents in the months or year before.
Bobby Marks: Chris Paul can be traded immediately after the trade is finalized. The two-month restriction only applies if his salary is aggregated with another player on the Thunder.
The Thunder could continue to work to find a new team for the 34-year-old Paul, league sources said. If the Thunder keep Paul, they'll have a representative lineup that currently includes him, center Steven Adams and forward Danilo Gallinari.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Houston hoped to find third-team destination preferable to Chris Paul, but ultimately leaves it OKC to execute next step once Presti confers w/ CP3 agent Leon Rose. Miami remains possibility for Paul (3 years, $124M) -- and OKC obviously has picks to incentivize deal, if needed.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Houston hoped to find third-team destination preferable to Chris Paul, but ultimately leaves it OKC to execute next step once Presti confers w/ CP3 agent Leon Rose. Miami remains possibility for Paul (3 years, $124M) -- and OKC obviously has picks to incentivize deal, if needed.
Ramona Shelburne: The Thunder was focused first on doing right by Russell Westbrook in this trade, sources said. He preferred Houston, a source said. Now they’ll turn their attention to Chris Paul and what he wants. Remember, CP3 began his career in OKC (relocated from NOLA briefly)
Brett Dawson: Can confirm the @Adrian Wojnarowski report that Russell Westbrook is headed to Houston for Chris Paul and a package of first-round picks and pick swaps. Houston was a preferred destination for Westbrook, and OKC worked to get him there.
Sam Amick: For those wondering, source tells @TheAthletic that OKC does this deal with full anticipation that Chris Paul will be part of a good team that now has a treasure trove of future assets. Gallinari, SGA, Adams, Roberson, Noel core, and EIGHT new 1st rounders, as @Travonne noted.
Shams Charania: Sources: Pick protections in Thunder/Rockets, Russell Westbrook/Chris Paul trade: 2024 first round pick, protected 1-4 2026 first round pick, protected 1-4 2025 swap, 1-20 protected 2021 swap, protected 1-4 -- OKC can swap Clippers pick or Heat pick.
Yossi Gozlan: Thunder's draft chest now includes (aside from their own): 2020 Nuggets (top 10 protected) 2021 Heat 2021 Rockets (swap) 2022 Clippers 2023 Clippers (swap) 2023 Heat (lottery protected) 2024 Clippers 2024 Rockets 2025 Clippers (swap) 2025 Rockets (swap) 2026 Rockets 2026 Clippers
Anthony Chiang: Chris Paul's contract expires one season earlier than Russell Westbrook's deal. And the Thunder added to its pile of draft picks.
A source said that Paul would not necessarily need to be involved in a deal that delivers Westbrook to the Rockets, although his $38.5 million salary is a perfect match with Westbrook's. Paul has $125 million over three years remaining on his contract, while Westbrook has $171 remaining over four years, including a player option for $46.7 million in 2022-23. Morey has acknowledged aggressively exploring the trade market this offseason but said recently that Paul and perennial All-NBA guard James Harden are the two players who will definitely return to the Rockets next season.
Paul never demanded a trade from the Rockets, league sources tell The Athletic, nor would there be much of a market for one. League sources said Houston officials and Paul met after the season ended in their Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals, and both sides discussed the future. Paul informed the Rockets that if they decided to go younger and move in a different direction, he would understand and be a pro about it, according to league sources.
Rumors and speculation could not touch Chris Paul now — if they ever could — not here, not on a day like this. The Rockets guard, surrounded by his family in a break in the Go Hoop Day celebrations he co-founded, never seemed more comfortable, more in control, talking about his vision for the event and recognized by the City of Los Angeles for driving it. He had briefly addressed his place with the Rockets and future between portions of the clinics held on Sunday at Crete Academy. But there was one more point to make.
“I never asked for a trade,” Paul said. “I never demanded a trade.” He did not seem angry about the reports that he had, in part because he had nearly completed the day’s events on a near-perfect Southern California afternoon. He had stepped away for a place on nearby picnic tables, surrounded by his large family, munching on a plant-based burger from one of the event’s sponsors, Beyond Meat, as Paul completed his 11th day since becoming a vegan.
By then, the day’s celebration of basketball might have made it difficult to get too worked up over the off-season rumor mill. Paul was much more effusive about that cause, but he did briefly address speculation that he wants to leave the Rockets and that there is a rift with star backcourt mate James Harden. “I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”
The Rockets recently explored trading Chris Paul into New York’s cap space, but the Knicks refused, according to league sources. Trading Paul would have positioned the Rockets to be a Clint Capela or Eric Gordon trade away from freeing up the cap space to sign Jimmy Butler, who league sources say they plan to pursue. Injuries to the Warriors opened up the West, and there’s a scramble to accumulate talent and take advantage of Golden State’s misfortune.
Asked if Paul or his representatives had asked that he be traded, Morey said, “No. Can you convey my disdain in my ‘no.’ It’s so annoying at this point. “I’ve talked to Chris since (they were eliminated by the Warriors), for sure. Myself, Mike D’Antoni, James Harden are all super competitive, all frustrated we were eliminated from the playoffs, all want to get over the hump. That leads to a lot of competitive fire. All of it is normal. We’re all in the same boat, pursuing the championship. We’re all frustrated we’re not there. But there is nothing past that.”
Morey, saying Paul will return for a third season with the Rockets, has characterized trade talks as typical. Known to be one of the league’s most aggressive general managers, Morey would seem limited to discussing deals involving starters, with Nene the only reserve from the Rockets’ postseason roster under contract and extremely limited in how often he is available to play. Teams are not permitted to trade players that will be free agents.
Mark Berman: #Rockets owner @Tilman Fertitta on James Harden & Chris Paul: "These are 2 very competitive athletes & all they want to do is win a championship together for the Houston Rockets. We're excited to have them back and we look forward to using this opportunity to try to be successful"
Jonathan Feigen: A thoroughly exasperated Daryl Morey said Chris Paul and his reps have never asked to trade him and he will be on Rockets next season. Said he and Harden do not have issues with one another and that he has spoken to both often this off-season about free agency evaluations, plans.
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