The 2019 edition of NBA free agency has been quite the event, as star players like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard have all found new homes. The trade market has been equally intriguing, with Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook being the two most notable players to be dealt.
Part of the deal that sent Westbrook to the Houston Rockets also saw Chris Paul land with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The early speculation was that Paul and his $38.5 million salary would soon be traded again, but the Thunder may actually be willing to ride into 2019 with Paul as part of their roster.
While a trade isn't out of the question, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Thunder may be more likely to try moving Paul before the trade deadline or even after the coming season:
"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."
Part of the problem with a possible deal is Paul's salary, which jumps to $41 million in 2020 and $44 million in his option year in 2021. Paul will be 36 at the start of the 2021-22 season. While he's still a very good player, he is no longer elite and certainly won't be two years from now.
This is why any deal with a team willing to take on Paul—like the star-starved Miami Heat—would likely require provisions that offset or eliminate that massive option year.
"Basically if Chris wanted to get traded to the Heat now, he would maybe have had to been willing to decline his player option," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on the Hoop Collective.
According to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Heat may be willing to take on Paul's option year, but only if granted compensation to do so.
"A source familiar with the Heat approach to Paul stressed that not only aren't the Heat looking at any sort of pick swap, they likely would want multiple first-round picks to take on the 2021-22 season on Paul's contract," Winderman wrote.
Barring an unexpected development between now and the start of the regular season, it's unlikely that Miami or any other team deals for Paul.
This doesn't mean that the Heat won't deal for a high-end player before the end of the summer, however. Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal could be a trade target if he doesn't agree to a contract extension.
According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the Heat could revisit trade talks for Beal, though the Wizards have been reluctant to hear offers:
Did the Lakers Get Played?
The aforementioned Anthony Davis trade was one of the earliest and most significant moves of the 2019 offseason. It gave the Los Angeles Lakers a premier core tandem of Davis and LeBron James, and the Lakers briefly appeared close to adding a third superstar to the mix.
Before he agreed to join the Los Angeles Clippers, reigning Finals MVP Leonard was engaged in talks with the Lakers—but was he ever truly serious about joining them?
While there's no definitive proof that Leonard was simply toying with the Lakers, some in the organization believe this to be the case, according to Windhorst.
"I've heard complaints in the days after the signing," he said on the Hoop Collective (h/t Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk). "I heard complaints from the Lakers that they got played. I heard complaints from the Raptors that Kawhi came in and asked for the sun, the moon, the stars then left them at the altar."
There's a possibility that Leonard planned to sign with the Clippers all along and delayed his decision, in part, to prevent the Lakers from moving on other top-tier free agents. Los Angeles did wait until Leonard's decision to begin filling out its roster. While guys like Danny Green and DeMarcus Cousins can be nice complementary pieces, the Lakers missed out on the likes of Walker and D'Angelo Russell while waiting on Leonard.
There was also the report from ESPN's Ramona that Leonard wanted the Lakers to delay completion of the Davis trade while making his decision:
Was this a ploy to further set back the Lakers' offseason plans? Conspiracy theorists will probably say yes, though unless Leonard admits it publicly—which would be extremely out of character for the quiet superstar—we're unlikely to ever know.