CP3 Watch: The 8 Teams That Would Benefit Most from Chris Paul's Presence
Since this impending offseason lacks the star power of the summer of 2010, many NBA fans have already started speculating about where 2012's marquee free agents will end up. Among these big names coming off contract next summer, Chris Paul is a standout.
His incredible playoff performance (22 points, 6.7 rebounds, 11.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game) against the defending champion Lakers attest to his ability to carry a team when necessary, particularly in the wake of All-Star forward David West's ACL injury.
Paul's versatility, unselfish play and impeccable leadership would make him an asset to any team, and there are sure to be quite a few vying for his services.
All that being said, I've assembled a list of the eight teams I think would stand to gain the most from having CP3 on their roster, not including his current Hornets team. I ordered them, but it's still pretty loose, you could make arguments for any one team gaining the most out of signing Paul.
*Just a note, I'm not great at putting together hypothetical trades so some of these may not be 100% realistic...
No. 8: Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks are one of the league's deepest and most consistent teams (postseason excluded), but with Jason Kidd's retirement looming, the Mavs are undoubtedly interested in finding a new starting point guard. With a slew of players coming off contracts this offseason, including Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and Peja Stojakovic, it might be difficult for Dallas to broker a trade this summer for Paul, but the team should still aggressively pursue him.
While J.J. Barea is a reliable back-up point guard, the Mavs would likely jump at the chance to sign a star like CP3, particularly one that fits so well with the team's identity. The Mavericks are rooted in ball movement and unselfish play, and with a man like Paul at the point, their excellent offensive execution would only be even more evident.
Though Paul hasn't played a ton of the 2-3 match-up zone Dallas utilizes so effectively, his uncanny defensive sensibilities would allow him to integrate himself seamlessly into the Mavs' perimeter D. The lateral quickness of Jason Terry and Paul would enable them to guard any backcourt in the NBA.
Could It Happen?
Ehh. If this were last season I would say definitely, but the Mavs have several key players entering free agency and aren't as flush with assets as they have been in the past. I see them re-signing Chandler, but for somewhere around $12-14 million a year.
Dallas does have some young, potentially great players in Rodrigue Beaubois and J.J. Barea, but since they are an older team, I would think they'd try and keep around their young talent. There's also the issue of the Hornets trading Paul to a division rival.
It still could happen, but I'd expect the Mavs to make a move when Paul's in free agency and Jason Kidd's contract has expired.
No. 7: Los Angeles Clippers
Thanks to Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon the Clippers have gone from a joke to a fast-rising playoff contender in the Western Conference. They have a solid, youthful foundation with Griffin, Gordon and DeAndre Jordan, but they need a long-term point guard. Mo Williams is a decent facilitator and can make some clutch baskets, but he's a miserable defender and an inefficient overall shooter.
Clearly the Clippers' intention isn't to keep Williams as their starting point guard, given that the trade they made to send Baron Davis to Cleveland was clearly a salary dump. Eric Bledsoe had an impressive rookie campaign, but he isn't ready to be L.A.'s primary option at the one. You know who is though? Chris Paul.
Though Paul is only 26, he would provide the upstart team with a strong veteran presence and some excellent leadership on and off the court. Though Chris Kaman could provide that voice, the oft-injured big man doesn't have the on-court presence of CP3.
The Clippers have the capacity to be an excellent defensive team, Gordon has played stellar defense in spurts and his quickness is a huge asset. Jordan and Griffin also make a formidable duo protecting the rim with the help of a stalwart defender like Paul.
Could It Happen?
It's definitely more realistic now than a year or two ago. The Clippers, thanks largely to Griffin, aren't the laughingstock they once were (hey, they maybe-almost signed LeBron James, right?).
Still, given the myriad of teams courting Paul, L.A.'s step-sister team probably isn't the most desirable of his potential locations. Though the Clippers could maybe broker a trade involving Mo Williams and Chris Kaman as the centerpieces, it's unlikely Paul would sign a long-term contract with the team.
No. 6: New York Knicks
The Knicks would be replacing veteran Chauncey Billups with another phenomenal shot creator and Stoudemire, one of the league's best rolling big men, would again be partnered with one of the NBA's best pick-and-roll point guards. While Paul would clearly be the third option on offense he'd be a reliable one, more than capable of picking up the slack should Stoudemire or 'Melo have an off night.
Paul would do wonders for the Knicks' sub-par halfcourt execution and could decrease New York's reliance on transition hoops for scoring. Similarly, the team's dependence on isolation plays for Carmelo would decrease due to Paul's unmatched floor vision.
He would also be a huge boost on outside defense, which is something the Knicks have been lacking since trading away Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler.
Could It Happen?
Nope, the Knicks simply don't have much that would be enticing to the Hornets. The Knicks sacrificed nearly all of their assets in the deal for Carmelo Anthony, and while Landry Fields and Chauncey Billups' expiring contract are attractive, the team would have little left outside of Amar'e Stoudemire and 'Melo to contend with.
Since Anthony (three years, $65 million) and Stoudemire (five years, $100 million) are both on max contracts, it would already be difficult to scrape together an offer for Paul in free agency, and with the impending CBA and hard salary cap, it would be impossible unless he took a major pay cut.
It would be quite the sight, but for now it looks like the Knicks' renaissance won't include CP3.
No. 5: Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks were expected to be a legitimate playoff threat in the Eastern Conference this year, but were derailed due to substantial injuries to Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings and because of their inability to generate consistent offense.
The Bucks had one of the league's most impressive defenses, thanks largely to Andrew Bogut's shot-swatting and intimidating presence in the paint, but the team needs a point guard who can create offense for the other four players on the floor and not try and be the focal point of the offense, like Jennings does. Players like Carlos Delfino and John Salmons are more than capable of knocking down shots, but cannot consistently find their own shot and Brandon Jennings does little to help his teammates.
I'm not trying to say Jennings isn't a good player, but he isn't a consistent enough scorer to be the main offensive option the way that a Derrick Rose is. While Jennings is explosive, he doesn't really get to the rim much and his shot selection is often questionable. What the Bucks need is a player who can score when called upon, but who can also facilitate well and make plays for his teammates. Sound like anyone?
Bogut and Paul would be a formidable pick-and-roll duo, given Paul's passing and Bogut's ability to score in the paint. Paul's penetration would allow for open three-pointers for some of the Bucks' talented range shooters like Salmons and Delfino.
Given CP3's defensive abilities and the Bucks' identity as a defense-oriented team, I actually think that Paul in Milwaukee would work quite well.
Could It Happen?
For half a season maybe. The Bucks have some nice pieces and the Hornets could do a lot worse than Jennings as their starting point guard, but I doubt Milwaukee is high on Paul's list of desired teams.
Given the propensity of the current NBA's upper-echelon to flock to major markets, it is unlikely that Paul would want to go from one team with low national exposure to another.
The Bucks do have plenty of excellent defensive wing players who would fit well into Monty William's system. A deal of Jennings, Luc Mbah a Moute, Drew Gooden and maybe a draft pick for Paul and Jason Smith is doable, but I wouldn't say it's likely.
No. 4: Miami Heat
Look at what they were able to accomplish with essentially spot-up shooters Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers "running" their offense, now imagine a top three-point guard like Paul in that position. While it wouldn't have a big effect on Dwyane Wade or LeBron James' numbers, Bosh and the Heat's role players having someone that gifted creating their shots would be phenomenal. Even Erick Dampier could finish at the rim if it was off of a pinpoint Paul pass.
The Heat are already a sound defensive team, but Paul would only up their intensity. His quick hands and ability to come up with loose balls would ignite those fastbreaks the Heat are so effective at scoring in.
Could It Happen?
No sir, not a chance. The Heat have even less expendable assets than the Knicks, it's highly unlikely they would offer Wade or James, and while Bosh is a possibility, the Heat would lose significant size trading Bosh for Paul.
Mike Miller's a talented player, but his large contract, injuries and overall poor season have lowered his trade value, and while Udonis Haslem is a talented, gritty player, he would hardly make for the centerpiece in a blockbuster trade like this one.
While the salary cuts taken by Miami's "Big Three" were noble, there is still little room left to make a run at another marquee player. A team with Paul, Bosh, James and Wade would have to be rounded out by D-League players in order to fit the salary cap.
The Heat are going to have to win their six or seven championships without the aid of Chris Paul.
No. 3: Los Angeles Lakers
After the Lakers' surprising second-round defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, many fans are calling for some new blood, particularly a new point guard to replace the capable but aging Derek Fisher. Dwight Howard's name has been thrown around as a possible new face in L.A., and while his impact on the Lakers would be enormous, so would CP3's.
Though he wouldn't necessarily mesh well with the Lakers' triangle offense, Phil Jackson's departure is clearly the beginning of a new era in Los Angeles, and a new offensive system may well be established.
The Lakers' size is clearly one of their biggest assets and Paul's assist total would be staggering with the L.A. big mens' abilities to finish in the paint. Fisher isn't a consistent offensive option, but with Paul's scoring ability he would need to be guarded closely, allowing for open lanes to the basket.
Defensively, Paul's quickness and ability to see the court would improve L.A.'s transition defense, which is one of the weakest aspects of their game.
Paul's calm demeanor and excellent leadership would greatly benefit a Lakers team that can often get hot under the collar.
Could It Happen?
Absolutely. The Hornets are an undersized team and, particularly if David West exercises his Early Termination Option, will be looking to bolster their frontcourt. Pau Gasol or even Lamar Odom are definitely attractive pieces for the Hornets, given their dynamic scoring and rebounding and abilities to stretch the floor.
The Lakers are a desirable team for any marquee player, and given the wealth of talent in L.A., Paul would no longer have to be as much of an offensive option as he currently is in New Orleans.
A trade involving Lamar Odom, a draft pick and Matt Barnes for Paul and Quincy Pondexter seems reasonable in my mind.
I also read an article from last offseason that proposed a Bynum and Odom trade for Paul and Okafor, which seems feasible.
No. 2: Portland Trail Blazers
Now, I just wrote an article about how Raymond Felton would make an excellent point guard for the Blazers, and he would, but come on...Chris Paul is Chris Paul! Felton's a very good player, but Chris Paul is the best pure point guard in the league.
Despite his remarkable consistency, Andre Miller isn't getting any younger. Though he is still a great passer and a decent shooter, the Blazer's front office is clearly looking for a quick, youthful point guard to join the team's core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews.
The arrival of Chris Paul would greatly improve the Blazers' execution, which is what ultimately lost them their first-round series with the Mavericks, they would go long stretches without scoring consistently in the halfcourt. Paul's phenomenal intelligence and court vision would keep the Portland offense from becoming stagnant.
Though injuries have taken some of his explosiveness, Paul is still a fast player whose presence would allow the Blazers to get out in the open court more easily and score transition baskets.
Paul's excellent perimeter defense - he averages 2.4 steals per game for his career—paired with Matthews' own solid defensive abilities would form one of the best defensive backcourts in the NBA.
Can you imagine Chris Paul tossing alley-oops to L.A.? Insanity.
Could It Happen?
Yes, but it would be costly. The Hornets would likely ask for either Batum or Matthews, possibly both. The pair are still very young and have incredible potential. In my opinion, Batum is the more expendable player, given the addition of Gerald Wallace at the small forward position, but Batum's well-rounded game is something the Blazers should try and hold onto if possible.
A deal I see as possible would be something like Nic Batum, the Blazers' 2012 first-round draft pick and the expiring contracts of Marcus Camby and/or Miller for Paul and Emeka Okafor.
No. 1: Atlanta Hawks
Make no mistake, an Atlanta Hawks team built around Paul, Joe Johnson and Al Horford would be an NBA championship contender. The Hawks have been a solid team despite having a string of fairly average players manning the point (...no offense Kirk Hinrich and Mike Bibby).
Immediately, the Hawks' biggest problems, their poor ball movement and questionable shot selection, would evaporate with the presence of a passer as talented as CP3 running the team's offense. The Haws' reliance on isolation plays for Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford would be far less necessary thanks to Paul's gifts as a facilitator and an offensive option in his own right.
Paul would also provide the team with some much-needed perimeter defense. While Hinrich and Jeff Teague are solid defenders, they don't have the court vision or basketball IQ Paul does. Johnson and Crawford, despite showing occasional glimpses of their defensive talents, rarely commit to that end of the court the way they do offensively.
Rarely can the addition of one player fix so many of a team's core issues, but Chris Paul would absolutely change the style of play and mentality of Atlanta by donning a Hawk's jersey.
Could It Happen?
Yes, in fact, it could've already happened. In the 2005 NBA draft, the Hawks had the second overall pick and opted to take perennial blunder Marvin Williams ahead of Paul, who went fourth to the Hornets. While Williams has made a few impressive defensive plays (including this phenomenal block on Derrick Rose), he clearly will never be the star that Chris Paul is.
To get Paul now, however, the Hawks would have to give up something pretty substantial. I could see a possible offer of Josh Smith, a pair of first-round picks and either Teague or Hinrich for Paul and maybe Quincy Pondexter. Teague has a world of potential and Smith, when he's motivated, is one of the most versatile players in the NBA.
Though they'd be giving up some significant talent to get him, the improvements Paul would make to the Hawks would be well worth it.