Chris Paul has officially defied Father Time. The 35-year-old point guard is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. CP3 steered a young Thunder team to the playoffs, averaging 17.6 points, 5 rebounds and 6.7 assists while having the best clutch-performance stats of his career.
Heading into the offseason, Paul could find himself as a potential trade target. Thanks to his superb play last season, his contract — which has two years, $88 million remaining — is a lot easier to swallow for a team that might've been hesitant to pull the trigger in the past. To make matters more interesting, Oklahoma City could easily switch gears and enter a hard rebuild. With oodles of future draft picks, Thunder GM Sam Presti could look toward the future and build around budding star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Every team in the league could use a player like Paul. Who wouldn't want an efficient facilitator who is not afraid to take shots in high-pressure situations? And while he’s lost a step on defense, CP3 is as wily as ever and should still grade out as a net positive on that end of the court.
Which teams could use the future Hall of Famer the most? Here are five trades that could work for both Paul, the Thunder and the team acquiring him.
New York Knicks
The Knicks need to be honest with themselves. Frank Ntilikina is a defensive specialist with a limited offensive game, Kevin Knox could still figure it out, but as of now he’s an inefficient scorer who gets burned on defense and Dennis Smith Jr has been unable to fix his jump shot and morph into a lead facilitator. Sure, all these young players are 22 and younger and have the potential to put it together, but the Knicks have proven unable to develop talent. If any of these projects turn into a useful player, it likely won’t be with the Knicks.
As for Julius Randle, who averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds last season, his high salary would be necessary to complete a deal. While he’s an offensive force, he too often plays bully ball and fails to get his teammates involved. For the Knicks, giving up on a volume of young prospects with hints of potential would be a tough pill to swallow, but right now the mandate needs to be building around RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.
Paul, whose old agent Leon Rose is now running the Knicks, would provide invaluable veteran guidance for New York’s young cornerstones. He could unlock Robinson into the best rim-runner in the league and set up Barrett for success by dishing him the ball in favorable spots and serving as a spot-up shooter so Barrett doesn’t see a cramped floor when attacking.
The Bucks need to make a change. They were picked apart in five games this postseason by the Heat, and looked utterly shaken. To avoid being labeled as a “regular season” team and risk losing Giannis Antetokounmpo in free agency next year, the Bucks need to make a splash. And who would be better than Paul, who was one of the clutchest players in the league last season.
Paul’s age is less of a concern for a team that needs to win now. His ability to set up teammates for success is useful anywhere, but especially so on a team with the two-time reigning MVP who is a freight train with the ball. And while Giannis is no doubt a phenomenal player, his glaring weakness is making plays for his teammates. Paul easily fixes that issue.
While the Bucks surrender a lot of depth — and their lone promising young player in Donte DiVincenzo — Paul’s enduring brilliance and ability to get buckets is too crucial to pass up. In reality, Ersan Ilyasova and Robin Lopez were hardly playing when it mattered, and postseason demons returned for Eric Bledsoe. George Hill was his usual reliable self, but he’s not quite indispensable enough to stop a CP3 trade from going through. Losing DiVincenzo would hurt if he keeps developing at his current pace, but that’s the price you pay for winning now. A Big 3 of Paul, Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton would be one of the best in the league. They’d also retain Brook Lopez, a valuable rim protector and floor spacer. In the playoffs, depth doesn’t matter as much. It’s time for Milwaukee to pull the trigger.
The Bubble Suns just went undefeated when the NBA resumed play, and that was without Oubre. This is a team that is ready to take the next step from lottery squad to playoff contender, and trading for Paul makes that transformation complete. While Rubio has been a smart facilitator, which is exactly what Phoenix needed after years of ineptitude at the position, Paul raises the ceiling of a team significantly, especially when he could serve as the third scoring option behind Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton.
Oubre is a young wing who can score like crazy; I would not blame the Suns in the slightest if they decide that is too much to give up for a 35-year old point guard with a large cap hit. However, the Suns are stocked at wing with Booker, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, who was lights out from deep in the bubble.
If the Suns elect to bring back Dario Saric and Aron Baynes, that gives them a gritty, tough frontcourt along with a balanced wing arsenal. Throw in the Cameron Payne renaissance off the bench, and that’s a solid rotation.
Trade No. 4: Mike Conley, Royce O’Neale for Paul
The Jazz fell short once again in the playoffs. Bringing in Paul, who mentored star Donovan Mitchell when he was considering entering the draft, could bring this team to the promised land. For OKC, they get a downgrade at point guard, but Conley has an expiring deal next year. He can also still be a good point guard who continues easing Gilgeous-Alexander into his eventual star role. In addition, the Thunder would acquire a very gritty 3-and-D player in Royce O’Neale, who is young enough to grow with the team.
A trio of Paul, Mitchell and Gobert is a perfect balance of defensive stinginess and offensive brilliance. Paul would be lobbing Gobert the easiest points of his career while striking the ideal balance that allows Mitchell to be the chief scorer but not carry all of the team’s scoring burden. Add crafty veteran Joe Ingles to the mix, and the Jazz would ideally have a free-flowing offense that constantly keeps the ball moving. Also, star wing Bojan Bogdanovic will be back in the fold after wrist surgery. That gives the Jazz a potentially potent offensive group that can still hold up on defense with Gobert as an anchor.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure either team is rushing to make this deal. Paul’s age doesn’t align with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Thunder probably don’t want to swallow Horford’s contract, which could be the worst in the league if his play declines further.
But upon closer inspection, it’s just the kind of crazy deal that could happen. Philly’s new big man on campus is Daryl Morey, who traded for CP3 a few years ago. Paul's pristine playmaking skill and ability to get his own shot is just what Philly needs. It could also force Simmons into more of a point-forward role, which could unlock his skills even further. It also is beneficial for Embiid, who has spent most of his career facing double-teams because of a lack of surrounding shooting ability. Tobias Harris (36.7 3P%), Josh Richardson (34.7 3P%) and Paul 36.5 are not world-beaters, but defenses respect them enough to stick to them, giving Embiid more time and space to feast inside.
For Philly, a lineup of Paul-Richardson-Harris-Simmons-Embiid would be one of the best defenses in the league, and with CP3 and Simmons’ passing capabilities, should field an above-average offense or better. Parting with two quality young wings in Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton might be a deal-breaker that Philly decides they can’t bear to give up, but the opportunity to get off Horford’s deal without trading away a future pick and receiving a star point guard in return would have to make them think.
In Oklahoma City, it's doubtful owner Clay Bennett would be giddy paying Horford the rest of his deal, but the big man can still be a valuable contributor who could rehabilitate his value playing around more spacing. The chance to acquire one of the top perimeter defenders in Thybulle and a 3-point sniper with nascent playmaking ability in Milton could be too tempting to refuse for Presti and the Thunder.
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