B/R NBA Staff: What Would Chris Paul-Knicks Trade Mean for Those Involved?
The New York Knicks have set their sights on their next star. Again.
According to SNY's Ian Begley, James Dolan's team has eyes for Chris Paul. A 10-time All-Star, the 34-year-old Paul doesn't fit the arc of a rebuild, but as Begley said, "I think there are still people with the Knicks who feel that bringing Chris Paul onto this roster at this time would jumpstart the franchise's effort to build a winning culture, to give these young players winning habits."
Bleacher Report asked NBA writers not what a deal would like but what it would mean for some of those directly impacted.
The question? Simple yet loaded: What would a Paul-to-Knicks trade mean for...
Concession is the first word that comes to mind, as a move to the Knicks would necessitate Paul relinquishing the chance to play a meaningful role on a title-worthy team.
Mere days away from his 35th birthday, CP3 is at an age when every minute on the floor feels like borrowed time. So spending even one season (he's got two left on his contract, assuming he doesn't opt out of $44.2 million in 2021-22) with a team that wouldn't threaten the Eastern Conference's top four even if everything went right would basically ensure Paul will finish his brilliant career without so much as a Finals trip.
CP3 isn't in complete control of where he plays next year; if the Thunder coax a good offer from the Knicks (how New York would scrounge up the assets to make this worthwhile for OKC is a whole separate question), Paul couldn't stop them from accepting it.
But given his stature in the league, the Thunder's desire to do right by him and the fact that CP3-to-New York is only a story because of Paul's connection to Leon Rose—new Knicks executive and his former agent—Paul would have some say in the matter. If he ends up in New York, it would almost have to happen with his sign-off.
Paul has added a chapter to his legacy by piloting a team most pegged for the lottery to a 40-24 record, verifying his Hall of Fame credentials with one more franchise-elevating season. OKC had real talent, though. Veterans who could score, who'd won in the past. It had up-and-comers Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and retreads who just needed the right situation to shine (Dennis Schroder).
The Knicks have none of that, which makes it wildly unrealistic to expect Paul to duplicate the impact he had in Oklahoma City. That's without even considering a litany of other factors—age, health, coaching—that will not improve with a move to New York.
If Paul ends up with the Knicks, it will be a strange last act—one that includes a historically competitive superstar being resigned to mostly meaningless games as his late prime concludes.
After nearly a full season in the school of CP3, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is ready to take the reins of the Oklahoma City Thunder offense.
This season, he's averaging 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per 75 possessions with a plus-0.2 relative true shooting percentage. The only players in league history to match or exceed those marks in an age-21 (or younger) season were LeBron James (twice), Magic Johnson, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant and Blake Griffin.
And that assist rate is actually down from what he posted as a rookie with the Los Angeles Clippers. That's because SGA was willing and able to slide over to the 2 when playing alongside Paul. That move fostered some scoring aggression that he wasn't able to cultivate in L.A. With the mindset of a lead scorer—he leads OKC in points per game in 2019-20—Gilgeous-Alexander could move back to the 1 and reintegrate some of his playmaking if Paul leaves.
Gilgeous-Alexander's size (6'5" with a 6'11 ½" wingspan) creates more mismatches at the point than it does at the 2 as well. He can see over plenty of defenders to survey the floor and make pocket and wraparound passes that simply aren't available to smaller guards. He can ably shoot over the defense from three-point land or the mid-range too. Even as a 2, SGA has been one of the NBA's most prolific mid-range shooters this season. And all the shots CP3 has taken from there will be available if he leaves.
Of course, Gilgeous-Alexander's size also helps on the other end. He is capable of defending at least three positions, but more time on point guards would mean plenty of possessions during which his length bothers the opposition's engineer.
If Paul departs, it would likely accelerate SGA's star trajectory. This season showed he's ready to take off.
The best things the Knicks can do to advance RJ Barrett's development are remove the burden of shouldering the offense from him and build a culture of winning.
Barrett ranks fourth among rookies in usage in 2019-20 but 44th in effective field-goal percentage while piloting the league's fourth-worst offense. Despite ranking in the 91st percentile in drives to the rim, he still lands in the ninth percentile in effective field-goal percentage.
This is just one element of Chris Paul's game that could prove instrumental in Barrett's growth. With Paul on the floor, the Thunder had the best improvement in points per possession and effective field-goal percentage, ranking in the 99th and 98th percentiles.
Paul can take the reins and dictate through the pick-and-roll using his superior court vision to put Barrett into position to get optimal looks—much as he did for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Paul proved he could coexist with a ball-dominant wing, as SGA's usage escalated from 20 percent to 24.5 in his second year while Paul's fell to the third-lowest rate in his career (26.8).
Beyond the offensive improvements the Knicks would be bound to make is how Paul would impact their record. He ranks ninth leaguewide in real plus-minus and has the 11th-best net rating in the clutch while slashing 53.5/36.0/93.8. Oklahoma City won 29 games in the clutch to New York's 14 with the best net rating in the NBA (30.2).
If the Knicks can add Paul, Barrett's value should skyrocket and his impact should explode in his second season.
Kevin Knox II and Frank Ntilikina?
A Chris Paul-Knicks trade would greatly benefit both Kevin Knox II and Frank Ntilikina, no matter if they're included in the deal or not.
Assuming they stay, having a true point guard such as Paul to run the offense would be a huge upgrade from Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton and even Ntilikina when he's tasked with ball-handling duties.
It's becoming clear that Ntilikina, three years into his career, isn't going to become a franchise point guard, and that's OK. His handle, passing and vision are better suited to an off-ball guard or a backup role, and his 6'4" frame with a 7'1" wingspan provides more than enough size for him to switch to shooting guard full-time.
Ntilikina is also shooting almost six percentage points better when taking catch-and-shoot threes compared to pull-ups (33.7 percent to 27.8 percent). Putting the ball in Paul's hands and letting Ntilikina space out to the corners (48.3 percent) would benefit the 21-year-old as well. The same principles apply should Ntilikina be traded to OKC, where Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder handle point duties.
For Knox, a move off the Knicks may be for the best.
While playing with Paul would lead to more easy looks, New York hasn't committed to using its 20-year-old forward as a regular part of the rotation. His minutes have been slashed from 28.8 per game during his rookie season to just 17.9 with his stop attempts (12.2 to 6.2) nearly cut in half as well.
Moving to a franchise that's better known for player development would help Knox unlock his raw potential, especially if starting power forward Danilo Gallinari leaves in free agency and even more minutes open up. It could take a different team to let Knox play through and learn from his mistakes.
Knicks' Free Agency?
Chris Paul's arrival would affect the Knicks' free-agency plans substantively. Aside from tilting them entirely toward the win-now end of the spectrum, he would invariably knife into how much money they have available.
New York's cap situation is fluid—contingent upon what happens with Bobby Portis' team option, the partial guarantees owed to Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson and Elfrid Payton and the Bird rights on Maurice Harkless. Clearing the deck would give the Knicks well over $40 million to peddle on the open market.
All that money could evaporate as part of a Paul deal, depending on what the Thunder are looking for in return. If all they want is relief from his $41.4 million salary, the Knicks have the flexibility to swallow his contract without sending anything back.
That scenario feels unlikely. Paul is a shoo-in for All-NBA honors this season. It's tough to imagine the Thunder would strictly salary-dump him. They'd be better off taking on money if it meant getting more tangible assets in return.
It likewise wouldn't make much sense for New York to burn all its cap space on Paul. He needs a veteran asset base around him if the team is going to compete. The Knicks would be better served guaranteeing some combination of their expiring pacts to preserve wiggle room on the free-agency market.
Whatever they do, though, acquiring Paul would take them out of the max-money club. That's fine. This isn't the summer to have cap space, and even if it were, the Knicks aren't in the business of bagging first-choice free agents anyway.
At 35 years old Wednesday, Chris Paul won't lead the Knicks to a title.
Not as they're presently constructed, anyway. But the Knicks even thinking in terms of titles and contention right now would mean skipping several steps.
The franchise hasn't made the playoffs since 2012-13 and hasn't finished outside the bottom five of the Eastern Conference since 2013-14. Forget contention—new team president Leon Rose, who happens to be Paul's former agent, needs to focus on competence.
If there's one thing Paul's teams always have been, however, it's competent.
The Clippers' reputation leaguewide in 2011 was even worse than the Knicks' is in 2020, but Paul's arrival in a trade from the New Orleans Hornets after the lockout brought a measure of credibility and professionalism the franchise had never had before—and kicked off the longest run of sustained success they had ever experienced.
The Thunder should have been relegated to the lottery this season after trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the summer (the latter to the Houston Rockets in a deal for Paul), but Paul is too competent for that to happen.
This isn't to say the Knicks are a sure thing to make the playoffs if they trade for Paul. But it becomes a lot easier to acquire the players you need to get to that point when you have someone of his stature, both as a future Hall of Famer and president of the players' union.
Other players listen to Paul and take him seriously. There has been a lot wrong with the Knicks in the last two decades—ownership, management, coaching, lack of talent, you name it—but the leadership void has been noticeable on the court since the breakup of the 1990s teams that reached two Finals.
Paul, even a past-his-prime version, would go a long way toward restoring some of that competence.