Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Rumored Target Chris Paul

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2020

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul (3) brings the ball up the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

NBA offseasons typically last around four months. Thanks to 2019-20's midseason hiatus, we're on the cusp of what could be one of the game's wildest one-month stretches.

The draft, free agency, trades and training camps have to be crammed into the few weeks between now and December 22. And the rumor mill is already churning in anticipation of that ride.

On Tuesday, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks were interested in Russell Westbrook. About an hour later, ESPN's Brian Windhorst broke news that the player Westbrook was traded for last offseason may be on the move, too:

Brian Windhorst @WindhorstESPN

The Phoenix Suns have had discussions about acquiring Chris Paul from the OKC Thunder, sources tell me & @TimBontemps. Story forthcoming.

This should come as no surprise. From the moment the Oklahoma City Thunder sent Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps, an eventual reroute felt almost inevitable for CP3.

Then, something happened. Paul started the season with the Thunder, and the Thunder started winning.

By the time the trade deadline rolled around, OKC was on track for a playoff berth. That made a CP3 trade less likely. The Thunder wound up finishing fifth in the West and pushing Westbrook, James Harden and the Rockets to seven games in the first round.

But it never felt like this was Paul's final NBA destination, and now this news from Windhorst is sure to get trade machines fired up all over the internet, which is exactly what'll happen here.

First, though, some words on Paul's trade value.

Yes, he had a stellar 2019-20, with a top 15 box plus/minus ("...a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player's contribution to the team when that player is on the court," according to Basketball Reference) and averages of 17.6 points and 6.7 assists per game, but CP3 is 35 and owed $85.6 million over the next two seasons.

That's a hefty commitment for any team, especially if OKC insists on a draft pick, but it might make sense for a few.

If the Phoenix Suns are in talks on a possible deal, what might it look like? And what other teams might try to get in on the hunt? Let's discuss.


Phoenix Suns

The Deal: Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr. and a 2021 first-round pick for Chris Paul

Ricky Rubio had a better season for the Suns than people realize. Beyond his 13.0 points and 8.8 assists, he brought stability to a young Phoenix roster that desperately needed it. He also took some pressure off Devin Booker.

When he was on the floor, the Suns were plus-3.2 points per 100 possessions, roughly equivalent to a 49-win team.

Replacing all of that with Paul makes sense. The latter is five years older, but for the life of his current contract, he's likely to provide everything Rubio did at a higher level.

Leadership, gritty defense, more efficient scoring, stability and recent experience playing alongside an up-and-coming guard (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) would make CP3 an ideal fit for the Suns, who are riding a little organizational momentum after going 8-0 in the bubble.

Giving up on Kelly Oubre Jr. isn't ideal, but he wasn't around for that Orlando run. Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson look poised to carry the forward minutes in his stead.

And though the 2021 draft is supposed to be loaded, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony, a lineup of CP3, Booker, Bridges, Johnson and Deandre Ayton would likely drive the attached pick down to the middle of the first round.

For the Thunder, this move adds to the treasure trove of assets they already have, gives them a one-year look at a 24-year-old forward who just averaged nearly 20 points per game and saves them a ton of money in 2021-22. Rubio is set to make $26.4 million less than Paul during that campaign.


New York Knicks

The Deal: Wayne Ellington, Bobby Portis, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and a 2023 first-round pick for Chris Paul

The New York Knicks are in dire need of the kind of instant credibility Paul brought to OKC last season. They have the worst record in the league over the last 20 seasons, and they haven't had a guard selected to the All-Star team since 2001.

CP3 may be too old to break that streak, but he'll almost certainly add wins to the bottom line. After seeing what he did for a young wing in Gilgeous-Alexander and a paint-bound center in Steven Adams, the Knicks should be dying to get him around RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.

The number of names up top makes this seem like a big asking price, but there isn't a guaranteed game-changer in the bunch. And on the youngsters—Dennis Smith, Jr., Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox—time is running out to show some promise worthy of their draft positions.

For the Thunder, all three would be flyers. At this point in their rebuild, though, that's fine. They know they have something in SGA, a 6'5" guard-wing who just averaged 19.0 points, but the rest of the core is far from formed. If even one of those guys broke out under the tutelage of OKC's coaching staff, this trade would be a winner.

If not, the Thunder still save plenty of money (Wayne Ellington and Bobby Portis will both be on expiring contracts, assuming New York picks up their team options) and get a first-round pick.


Milwaukee Bucks

The Deal: Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, D.J. Wilson, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick for Chris Paul

Shortly after the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated in the second round of the postseason, team brass met with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to discuss the future.

"In a three-hour lunch meeting, Bucks co-owner and governor Marc Lasry made it clear to MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo that the franchise plans to spend into the luxury tax to try and deliver him a championship supporting cast," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted.

With Giannis potentially on the cusp of unrestricted free agency in 2021, desperation may be setting in. And this is exactly the kind of move that comes from desperation.

That wouldn't mean it was bound to be a mistake, though.

Eric Bledsoe's last two playoff performances left a lot to be desired (and that's putting it mildly). And Paul would likely be a statistical upgrade over him during the next two seasons.

Putting Brook Lopez in the trade isn't ideal, but it's tough to get a deal done without his salary. His departure might clear the path for more modern lineups featuring Giannis at the 5, too.

As for D.J. Wilson, his salary is also necessary for CBA purposes, but consider him a young(ish) prospect who gives this offer a bit more long-term punch.

Stylistically, having Paul and Giannis together would require an adjustment period. Both are at their best with the ball in their hands.

But CP3 has shown an ability to take a step back over the last three seasons (first with Harden and then with SGA). And having the two stars bookend the lineup leaves three slots open for shooting. High-end talent like that can figure things out.

OKC, meanwhile, doesn't get the savings or flexibility with this deal that it does with others detailed here. Bledsoe and Lopez are both under contract through 2022-23, when they'll make a combined $33.3 million. Hence, the extra draft pick.

This could still work for the Thunder, though. Adding Bledsoe and Lopez could keep them in the hunt for the playoffs next season. And both of those deals are plenty tradable over the next few years.


Charlotte Hornets

The Deal: Nicolas Batum, Devonte' Graham and a 2022 first-round pick for Chris Paul

This one is largely about the savings for OKC.

Considering the fact that he just averaged 3.6 points, Nicolas Batum declining his $27.1 million player option would be legitimately shocking. Once he picks it up, he'll be on one of the league's biggest expiring contracts, and that makes salary-matching Paul's deal much easier for the Charlotte Hornets than it is for most other teams.

Combining that money with Devonte' Graham, a 25-year-old guard who just broke out for 18.2 points, 7.5 assists and 3.5 threes, and a first-round pick amounts to a pretty solid trade package.

Thanks to SGA's size, he and Graham should be able to play together, and if the styles don't mesh, Graham is a free agent in 2021.

For the Hornets, just imagine Paul with a No. 3 pick like, say, James Wiseman? Or really, whoever Charlotte ends up taking there.

CP3 can lend the same kind of veteran tutelage to that player, and the Hornets generally, as he did in Oklahoma City.

This deal has a hint of sentimentality, too. Paul was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As a Wake Forest Demon Deacon, he went to college there too. It's just over an hour from Charlotte.

The homecoming narrative shows up more in rumors than actual deals, but Paul finishing his career in the Tar Heel State would be fitting.