Updated Trade Packages and Landing Spots for OKC Thunder Guard Chris Paul
A summer swap between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder moved the nine-time All-Star from a win-now contender to a win-eventually rebuilder. The only things that seem more out of place than the 34-year-old on this OKC roster are the remaining three years and $124.1 million of his contract on this OKC payroll.
Hoop heads everywhere should be championing the #FreeCP3 cause. The best-case scenarios for both Paul and the Thunder involve a trade elsewhere, even if they won't admit it in public.
We're here to help by handling the breakup ourselves.
While his age, injury history and colossal contract all make him tricky to trade, the five following landing spots either make sense now or will over the course of the 2019-20 campaign.
True Hoop partner and analyst and Executive Director of The Pro Training Center, David Thorpe, returns to The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss Thorpe’s Team of players including JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Kevon Looney, and Mike Conley, and to also breakdown the 3-point shots of Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, and Ben Simmons.
Miami Heat Receive: Chris Paul, Andre Roberson, 2021 first-round pick (their own)
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Justise Winslow, Duncan Robinson
Why not start with the obvious landing spot? All the links that brought Paul and Miami together over the summer still exist.
The Heat still need a second star to pair with Jimmy Butler. Paul still needs a more competitive club, and he should have intimate knowledge of this one thanks to fellow banana boater Dwyane Wade.
While no deal has gone down, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported the Heat still "have a level of interest." At this point, it seems certain nothing will transpire ahead of the season's tip, but that's probably true of all these hypothetical transactions. If Miami starts slow and OKC gets a disappointing read of Paul's trade market, these clubs could come together yet.
The Heat are missing a true floor general, and it's unclear who will handle secondary scoring duties. Paul could scratch both itches, potentially thriving under a militaristic approach from team president Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra that seems to mesh with his own.
Paul could be the best of both point guard worlds for the Heat: more reliable on defense than Goran Dragic, more reliable on offense than Justise Winslow. If Miami is comfortable giving Tyler Herro or Kendrick Nunn the backup point guard gig, it could handle the losses of Dragic and Winslow, especially when it's also bolstering the defense with Andre Roberson and getting its 2021 first-rounder back.
The Thunder would take a big step toward wiping their financial slate clean, but they'd really be hoping for Winslow to become a part of their long-term future.
The defensive future of a nucleus with Winslow, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo and Darius Bazley could be special. Duncan Robinson could be a sneaky-good addition, too, bringing some badly needed shooting to the mix.
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Chris Paul, 2020 first-round pick (top-10 protected via Denver Nuggets)
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova, Robin Lopez, D.J. Wilson, Donte DiVincenzo
This might be the longest of long shots, but hear us out as Milwaukee could decide the status quo isn't cutting it.
Giannis Antetokounmpo plus a roster full of high-level support players just proved capable of delivering NBA-best performances in wins (60) and efficiency (plus-8.6). But it's fair to question whether this group has the star power needed to take the title, or whether any shortcoming in that department might convince Antetokounmpo to think outside Wisconsin in 2021 free agency.
"As long as ... we are all on the same page and we are all focused on [winning a championship], why not play for the Bucks 20 years? Why not play 25 years?" Antetokounmpo said this summer, via ESPN's Tim Bontemps.
Milwaukee sent mixed messages on that front over the offseason. While it paid up for Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and George Hill, it also had future flexibility in mind when it sign-and-traded Malcolm Brogdon to the Indiana Pacers. Considering Brogdon appeared to be the Bucks' second-best player more than once in the postseason, that decision couldn't have been a comfortable one.
Turning Eric Bledsoe, a disappointing playoff performer the past two years, into Paul could communicate this front office's level of commitment to championship contention. Paul's outside shot and distributing would both relieve burdens on Antetokounmpo, while his defense—the best at the position by ESPN's defensive real plus-minus—could make this group even stingier.
This might make Milwaukee top-heavy, but star-driven squads raise championship banners.
OKC would part with Denver's first to complete a Paul deal that brings minimal long-term money back. While Bledsoe's deal runs through 2022-23, the final season is only partially guaranteed. It would be a shock if he's still with the Thunder by then since he shouldn't have a shortage of trade suitors.
Wilson and DiVincenzo showing positive signs of growth would really help how this package looks, and they'll have time to do so since it can't be offered until trading restrictions for Robin Lopez expire on Dec. 15.
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Gorgui Dieng, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick
While Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns under contract through 2023-24, it's never too early for teams with a solo star to try getting another. Rather than waiting on Andrew Wiggins to figure things out after five years falling short of expectations, the Timberwolves could try an all-in push to jump back into the playoff race.
Even if a 34-year-old Paul isn't quite a Point God, he's still several tiers above Jeff Teague. While Paul landed fourth among point guards in RPM last season, Teague was buried down at 40th. Paul is a more advanced shot-creator, a more discerning decision-maker, a sharper outside shooter and a more disruptive defender.
Danilo Gallinari would complete this group's playoff-caliber scoring trio. The 6'10" scoring forward was an offensive fireball last season, landing 11th overall in offensive real plus-minus. He outpaced his career averages from every shooting level, resulting in a pristine 46.3/43.3/90.4 slash line.
Incredibly, there might be room for his offensive efficiency to grow, too, since he'd slide down the offensive pecking order in Minnesota.
Robert Covington would then fit into one of the West's top quartets, and Nerlens Noel would join Jordan Bell and Noah Vonleh in a fight for the fifth starting spot. If the Timberwolves see enough development from Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie and Jake Layman, this team could be a tricky playoff matchup for anyone.
OKC could use this opportunity to further embrace its rebuild. Getting two picks back in any Paul trade is a win, and Wiggins would give it another young, long, athletic wing to mold. Teague and Dieng are capable placeholders, and the former might fetch a pick from a point guard-needy shopper near the deadline.
Orlando Magic receive: Chris Paul, Andre Roberson, 2022 first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers)
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, D.J. Augustin
After snapping a six-year playoff drought and seeing several of the East's top teams lose their best players to free agency, the Magic might be ready to throw caution to the wind. Some would say that process already started after Orlando committed $179.2 million to Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Al-Farouq Aminu—all age 28 or older—this summer.
"We're trying to win," president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman told The Athletic's Josh Robbins.
Assuming Orlando gets a healthy Andre Roberson, this swap would help the team win now. Perception might say otherwise, but the "decline" of Paul has been overstated, and the "rise" of Aaron Gordon hasn't really happened.
Last season, Paul created the third-most points off assists per game (21.1) and more than tripled his 152 turnovers with 473 assists. His 4.76 RPM was the NBA's 12th-best, per ESPN. He offers a level of stardom Orlando hasn't seen since Dwight Howard shared a home with Disney, plus he has the right mindset to lead this top-10 defense and the ball skills to perk up this 22nd-ranked attack.
Paul's presence would take any developmental pressure off Markelle Fultz, and the Magic might be able to flip Paul for assets closer to the completion of his contract if the youngster ever proves ready.
Gordon's absence might be easier for Orlando to stomach than people think. He has five NBA seasons under his belt, and he's yet to average 18 points or four assists. His next All-Star or All-Defensive honor would be his first.
But a congested frontcourt and spotty point guard play have worked against him with the Magic. He could find a better developmental environment in the Sooner State, where he'd team with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Terrance Ferguson to lead a defense-driven rebuild.
Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin are primarily money-matchers. Ideally, the Thunder could flip Augustin and his expiring contract ahead of the deadline, then do the same with Fournier next season.
Washington Wizards receive: Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: John Wall, 2022 second-round pick (most favorable of Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers)
You know the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?" The logic here draws from its less familiar (and far less catchy) family member, "If it is broke, check around if someone else has one that's broken, and maybe you can swap them and see if you can salvage the other."
Both the Wizards and Thunder would be washing their hands of brutal contracts here. While they'd obviously be taking on another, they'd be doing so with an optimistic "their trash might be my treasure" approach.
John Wall might not play at all this season after undergoing February surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles. OKC could live with that absence since it would clear the runway for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to take flight and build off his All-Rookie second-team debut.
Assuming Wall eventually makes it back to something resembling his former self—his contract could run through 2022-23—this backcourt should have enough size to co-exist. Between Gilgeous-Alexander's reach and Wall's bulk, there wouldn't be many matchups presenting major defensive problems. Not to mention, OKC would have multiple offensive triggers and two relentless attackers.
Since Wall's contract runs a year longer and he's not playing much, if any, this season, OKC would add yet another future draft pick to its collection.
Washington, meanwhile, would get a better backcourt fit for Bradley Beal. Paul is now more experienced playing off the basketball, so Beal would have room to continue developing his on-ball arsenal. The fact each grinds at both ends might make this the East's top backcourt, potentially giving the Wizards a shot at hosting a first-round series in a conference that looks like it's Milwaukee, Philadelphia and then everyone else.
Beal, who is slated for 2021 free agency but could lock in an extension before that, sounds like he wants to stay if the franchise can show him a path to success. Snagging a mid-level (or better) playoff spot with Paul would send that message much clearer than limping to a lottery finish without Wall.