NBA Rumor: Chris Paul Trade?

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The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that the team has completed a four-team trade with the Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Pelicans have acquired Steven Adams (via Oklahoma City) and Eric Bledsoe (via Milwaukee), as well as two future first round draft picks from Milwaukee and the right two swap two additional first round picks with the Bucks. In exchange, Milwaukee has acquired Jrue Holiday and the draft rights to Sam Merrill, the 60th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft (via New Orleans); Denver has acquired the draft rights to R.J. Hampton, the 24th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft (via Milwaukee); and Oklahoma City has acquired a future first round draft pick (via Denver), George Hill (via Milwaukee), Zylan Cheatham, Josh Gray, Darius Miller and Kenrich Williams (via New Orleans) as well as two second round draft picks from the Pelicans (2023 via Washington, 2024 via Charlotte).

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“We want to thank Chris for the contributions he has made to the Thunder and the Oklahoma City community both this season and during his initial tenure in 2005-06 with the Hornets,” said Presti. “Chris has been the consummate leader and has left a tremendous legacy in a short period of time. We wish him and Abdel and their families only the best moving forward. We also look forward to welcoming Ricky, Kelly, Ty and Jalen to Oklahoma City and are excited for them to join the Thunder program.”

If the Knicks acquire Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook in a trade, several teams expect them to also pursue veterans in free agency that can help them compete in 2020-21. As we’ve reported, some MSG people are hesitant to give up assets in a Westbrook or Paul deal because they want to have enough trade capital to deal for another top player – if/when one becomes available via trade. But if they find a Westbrook/Paul trade that suits them, it’s fair to assume that Julius Randle is involved to match salaries. The Knicks could also absorb the Westbrook or Paul contracts into cap space

Paul also was asked about reports of possible trades involving him, but said little that would provide insight on where he may play next season — or if he expects to be traded. He’s owed about $41 million for this coming season and holds a $44 million player option for next season. “Man, I’m 35 years old and I still get a chance to play basketball every day and say that’s my way of life,” Paul said. “That is crazy in itself so regardless what happens, I’ll be ready.”

Jimmy Fallon: Now, when you hear these (trade) rumors, what goes through your mind? Chris Paul: Man, I’m going into year 16, right? So I’ve heard about every rumor that you could possibly hear. So you learn to control what you can control. I’m training getting ready for the season. If something happens, it will. If not, you know, I love being in Oklahoma with our team. We actually just got a new coach yesterday. So, you know, the league is always constantly changing.

Chris Paul not interested in Lakers?

According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on the Wednesday edition of First Take, Paul never wanted to join the Lakers because it would feel like empty ring chasing. As Smith said, the Lakers would “being doing something for him, he wouldn’t do anything for them,” which turned Paul off on the idea of joining the Lake Show. The reason he doesn’t want to go to the Lakers is they’re already established, already accomplished. There’s really nothing for him to do for them, it’s only what they can do for him and that’s ring chasing, not the ring chasing Chris Paul wants to do. That’s stacking the deck.

Kawhi Leonard recruiting Chris Paul?

What’s more is that Clippers’ star Kawhi Leonard has reportedly reached out to Paul and is recruiting him to join his former team. Via the Ryen Russillo podcast, h/t @LAClippersFilm: “The Clippers definitely interested in Chris Paul,” says Russillo. “The math doesn’t really make any sense and Paul has basically told any of the teams that are interested in trading for him, ‘hey, I don’t want you trading your player for me. I want to just come and join you,’ but that’s really hard when you’re making over $40 million a year and another year for $40 million plus for next year. So Paul’s not taking any kind of buyout for Oklahoma City to then try and make up the money somewhere else because I don’t know that the buyout would make a ton of sense for anybody involved, even if the buyout were really high and then Paul went ahead and made extra money.

“I think the Knicks have to be open to a lot of different things,’’ Fizdale said. “Would he be a great fit for them? Absolutely. I think he would fit those kids — Mitchell Robinson going to the rim, they get more spacing, more shooting. Absolutely, he would fit. The big stage. He doesn’t get sick [with COVID-19].” Nevertheless, Fizdale added: “For him, where he is at his career, I don’t think it’s a good fit for him and what he’s trying to do.’’

If James set his sights on Paul, the Lakers would have to send out five players: Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and Quinn Cook, along with Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee, who need to opt into their contracts to be dealt. L.A. would also need to send its No. 28 pick in November’s draft, signing that player before waiting 30 days to execute a deal in which the Lakers would offload almost $33 million in players salaries. Isn’t that too much of an upheaval for a team that just won a title? “It seems like a risk, but sometimes you need to [execute big moves] to make yourself even better,” the executive continued. “The [Golden State] Warriors will be better. The [Los Angeles] Clippers may be better. The [Denver] Nuggets aren’t going to get worse. Your competition is getting better. It worked [in Orlando] for the Lakers, but I don’t know if you have a normal regular season without the bubble if it does.”

Despite his success with the Thunder, the 35-year-old guard has still found his name in potential trade rumors this offseason. “I’m 35 and I just finished my 15th year. Any team that I’m on I think that we’re competing for a championship,” Paul said, when asked by Sports Illustrated’s Robin Lundberg about his future and what he brings to a team. “And that’s the way we felt this year with OKC. We had a very, very special team and that’s why I think I was hurt and just so mad when we lost.”

According to the source, that young player preferably is Knox, the ninth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft coming off a disappointing sophomore campaign. The Knicks have a trove of first-round picks to deal (seven first-round picks in the next four drafts). However, the belief is they’d prefer to keep the 20-year-old Knox out of any Pual scenario and offer up either of their 2017 lottery-pick point guards, Frank Ntilikina or Dennis Smith Jr., restricted free agents in 2021.

In any blockbuster trade, the Knicks probably have to add the enigmatic but productive Randle into the mix. Adding Paul and the two years and $85 million left on his contract would likely kill their salary-cap space for the next two seasons. “I think both players are of equal value and I would even give Chris Paul an edge despite his salary and age,” ESPN cap guru and former Nets executive Bobby Marks told The Post. “I have concerns if Oladipo can get back to the high level he was before the injury. He is on an expiring contract and can leave as a free agent. He will likely not sign an extension. Where is he health-wise?”

Bucks unlikely to pursue Chris Paul?

As for the reported prospect of the Bucks pursuing Oklahoma City point guard Chris Paul as a possible solution to the roster deficiencies, sources with knowledge of ownership’s thinking said it was highly unlikely. The cost of bringing him aboard — Paul is owed $41.3 million next season and has a player option worth $44.2 million in the 2021-22 campaign — and the potential difficulty of bringing Paul onto a roster already led by a strong personality in Antetokounmpo seems to limit the chances of the Bucks moving to pair together the two All-Stars. All indications are that the Bucks would rather look elsewhere.

On Chris Paul trade scenarios: Gozlan: “Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova – assuming you guarantee his $7 million salary for next season – and then you can do a variation of George Hill. I don’t think they want to trade George Hill. I think he was awesome for them, and they want to keep him. In that case, you can get away with Robin Lopez and DJ Wilson. After that, then you start talking about the incentives, maybe Donte DiVincenzo. On OKC’s side, they’d love to get a lot of picks and young players.” Scotto: “At that point, if you’re OKC, you’re signaling you’re fully rebuilding, and you’re going to really start to gut that roster. If you get rid of Chris Paul, Steven Adams will probably be talked about in trades. Dennis Schroeder as well. Danilo Gallinari (free agent) probably wouldn’t be brought back at that point, or you try a sign-and-trade to get him to a certain destination.”

Sixers interested in Chris Paul?

The Bucks would likely face competition in any pursuit of Paul. League sources say the Sixers front office has seriously debated the idea of chasing CP3. The Knicks, in desperate need of a player to lure prospective free agents, could also make a run at him after his former agent, Leon Rose, took over as team president. But there likely won’t be a lot of suitors for Paul. Not many teams need a point guard, nevermind an old one with an injury history making $41.4 million in 2020-21 with a player option to make $44.2 million in 2021-22. Paul proved this season he’s still a damn good player, but that doesn’t mean many teams want him.

Let’s bring in Captain Obvious to discuss one possibility: Paul to the Bucks. A package from Milwaukee might be the Thunder’s best case with the Point God, despite his awesome 2019-20 season, simply because he’s making such a huge number (over $41 million next year) at an advanced age. Even with Paul’s giant salary and the Bucks’ luxury tax concerns (if they remain concerns after what last year’s penny-pinching brought them), a deal is possible if the Bucks guarantee Ersan Ilyasova’s contract. Eric Bledsoe, Ilyasova, Robin Lopez (presuming he opts in), D.J. Wilson and the Bucks pick at 24 in the first round would form the salary match, with the fine print being haggling over additional assets and/or Donte DiVincenzo.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, talked about OKC’s future on The Hoop Collective pod. Via Real GM: “By all appearances, once the Thunder make the move to move on from Chris Paul, that’s kind of when they’re going to hit the reset button,” Young said. “That’s when I think they’ll start tearing down some of the pieces. Schroder will go. Adams might go. And they’ll start to sort of begin their first ever rebuild since they moved to Oklahoma City.”

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.

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.

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.”

Chris Paul staying put?

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.

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.

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.
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