4 Teams Waiting to Steal Chris Paul from LA Clippers During 2013 Free Agency

J.M. PoulardContributor IIMay 16, 2013

4 Teams Waiting to Steal Chris Paul from LA Clippers During 2013 Free Agency

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    The Los Angeles Clippers should be concerned over the possibility of Chris Paul defecting to another team heading into free agency.

    Four teams will make compelling presentations to Paul that could potentially sway him into joining their franchise. These squads will showcase different perks during the course of their courtship, but none more important to Paul than winning.

    The Clippers’ first-round elimination in the 2013 playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies left Paul a little bitter and dumbfounded. The Clippers’ leading assist man shared as much with ESPN LA’s Arash Markazi:

    "I don't know. This right here was unacceptable," Paul said. "We lost in the first round to a good Memphis team but a team we were capable of beating. There are no moral victories ... I have nothing to do. This is unreal. We only played two weeks long than everyone else that didn't make the playoffs. That sucks. That stings."

    Consequently, franchises competing for the services of Paul must have cap room to offer him a contract and sell him on their ability to compete for championships from the moment he signs on the dotted line. 

Dallas Mavericks

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    The idea of playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks should be an attractive one for any superstar. Other than All-Star games and the Olympics, Chris Paul has never been paired up with someone as talented as Nowitzki.

    The tandem would automatically become one of the very best in the league and give the Mavericks an opportunity to once again compete for a title. Dallas does come with a few complications, which makes it the least desirable destination of all of the teams with cap room and title aspirations.

    The Mavericks are not projected to have the necessary cap space in the 2013 offseason for a Paul signing. However, if they trade away Shawn Marion for a player making a minimum salary and renounce their free agents, the team could then sign Paul for the maximum.

    This is a risky proposition for Dallas given that their entire roster would get reshaped. With Paul and Nowitzki earning the bulk of the salary cap, the front office would then concentrate their efforts on acquiring players with short-term contracts and low-level wages.

    As evidenced by the Mavericks’ 2011 championship, Nowitzki has already proven he can lead a team to a title if surrounded with the right cast of role players. Consequently, a core of Nowitzki and Paul could be quite lethal.

    Their union coupled with a few key additional pieces would vault the Mavericks into contention.

    Mind you, the salary cap constraints for the Mavericks make their rise a difficult proposition even after bringing in Paul. Also, Nowitzki will be a 35-year old superstar by the time the 2013-14 season opens up.

    Given that Paul is currently entering his prime, one has trouble foreseeing him joining a Mavericks team with a superstar entering the twilight of his career. Hence, Dallas is a suitor who could steal Paul, but it’s an unlikely one at best. 

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Lakers have some history. Prior to the start of the 2011-12 season, Mitch Kupchak was under the impression he had acquired Paul in a trade from the New Orleans Hornets.

    The transaction was famously rescinded for basketball reasons and the Lakers lost out on Paul.

    This time around, the Lakers are in a different position and can get him through a different route. Bringing Paul to the Purple and Gold requires some tough decisions as well as a lot of work, but it’s not entirely inconceivable.

    The first and most important move here is amnestying Kobe Bryant. Keep in mind, such a transaction must occur with Bryant’s blessing. Otherwise, it could create a situation where players do not trust the front office going forward.

    Hence, waiving him would be a mutual agreement whereby Bryant would return in 2014-15 after nursing his ruptured Achilles for a full season.

    Granted, if the Lakers believe Bryant will be completely healthy and available for the start of the 2013-14 season, then the possibility of signing Paul in the 2013 summer falls apart.

    However, if such is not the case and Bryant projects to miss a huge chunk of the 2013-14 season, then the amnesty provision is in play.

    In the event the Lakers cut Bryant from the team, they would clear their books of his $30 million salary.

    The next dominoes in this instance would involve trading away Pau Gasol and Steve Nash (or Metta World Peace) for practically nothing in return. These three transactions together would give the Lakers the requisite cap space to sign Paul as a free agent and also re-sign Dwight Howard.

    The Lakers would have a core of Paul and Howard going forward, which could compete for titles. In addition, they would be bringing Bryant back into the fold the following season.

    Again, these moves are far from easy, but they are nonetheless at the disposal of Laker management.  

    This all comes with a giant asterisk, though. In a video game, this works out perfectly. However, in real life, getting rid of two Hall of Fame players who led the franchise to consecutive titles can result in a massive public relations hit.

    Also, it would certainly weigh on the minds of Paul and Howard when considering signing long term with the franchise. Would the Lakers be just as ruthless with them when their productivity takes a slight dip?

Houston Rockets

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    The Houston Rockets certainly have it all on the surface. They already possess an emerging superstar in James Harden and are currently projected to have nearly $20 million in cap room, per Hoopshype.

    In addition, if they do not pick up the team options of Francisco Garcia and Carlos Delfino, that in effect gives them a whopping $30 million to spend on the free-agent market.

    Hence, the Rockets could steal Paul and then add another quality free agent in the mold of Josh Smith. Adding Paul and Smith to a Houston group that made the playoffs in 2013 would undoubtedly make the Rockets an upper-echelon team.

    This alone could sway Paul, but general manager Daryl Morey probably has another wrinkle in his playbook.

    Instead of pursuing Smith, Morey might opt to go after Dwight Howard. This would require some creativity, but it’s feasible. The roster as presently constructed automatically becomes a championship core with the additions of Paul and Howard.

    Thus, the Rockets can sell both players on taking a little less than the maximum and turn the team into arguably the best in the Western Conference. In the event both superstars are adamant about maximizing their earning potential, Houston can still manage on this front.

    The Rockets will have to find suitors for Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Should Morey trade them for draft picks or players earning minimum-level salaries, it would free him up somewhere in the vicinity of $10 million in salary cap.

    Houston probably scares the Los Angeles Clippers given what they can offer.

Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks will make every effort possible to steal Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers, and quite frankly, refusing their overtures will be infinitely hard.

    The Hawks can effectively renounce all of their free agents and have roughly $40 million in cap space per Hoopshype. In addition, stud big man Al Horford is signed until the conclusion of the 2015-16 regular season.

    In other words, once the 2013-14 season commences, the Hawks could potentially unleash a core of Paul, Horford and Dwight Howard.

    Indeed, the room available under the salary cap gives Atlanta a huge free-agency edge. They can simply sign Howard and Paul outright.

    In a league that has recently embraced small ball, a Hawks team composed of this trio would pose a huge threat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

    Indeed, the Memphis Grizzlies, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs have demonstrated in the 2013 playoffs that size is still the currency by which most successful teams operate in the NBA.

    It’s worth noting that all three players are 28 or younger. Thus, the Hawks would be contenders for multiple seasons.

    The Clippers will more than likely have an uncomfortable 2013 offseason. Much like the Rockets, the Hawks have a compelling roster and an interesting financial situation that permits them to bring in superstar talent.

    Lob City might just cease to exist.