Chris Paul trade situation: Why the OKC Thunder need to stick with the veteran for now
Life has indeed come a full circle for Chris Paul. Starting off his career with the New Orleans Hornets, he played his first couple of seasons in the NBA in Oklahoma City when the franchise was forced to relocate due to the ill-effects of Hurricane Katrina. In his 15th season in the league, he's back in OKC again, albeit with a different franchise.
Nobody expected Paul to pull on a Thunder shirt in the summer, but such has been the off-season leading into this campaign. Oklahoma City shipped away Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets and acquired the services of CP3 in addition to the draft picks and pick swaps.
Now, enough has been spoken about Paul's 4-year $160 million contract that came into effect last year. Given his injury concerns and age, it's pretty much established just how difficult that salary is to move. However, you don't get the nickname 'Point God' for nothing and the Oklahoma City Thunder need to seriously evaluate the intangibles that the 34-year-old brings to the table before forcing a move.
Implications of the massive Chris Paul contract
For someone set to earn more than $38 million this season, CP3 is certainly not lighting up the NBA. It's established beyond doubt that he's overpaid and the $124 million that he's still owed makes a buyout impossible.
If this weren't enough, roughly half of the league was up for grabs in free agency and $3 billion worth of contracts were handed on the first day itself which resulted in unsurprisingly low demand for the veteran. And let's not be oblivious to the fact that salaries have to be matched for trades and most players with hefty salaries became ineligible for a trade due to the new contracts signed.
Miami Heat emerged as the only serious landing spot for Paul but you can't blame them for their waning interest following an outstanding start to the campaign. As a result, OKC, a team definitely wanting to rebuild, are still above the luxury tax limit and with Paul on the team, coach Billy Donovan simply cannot hand the ball to a youngster to run the show.
So why should the Thunder keep hold of Paul?
It's no secret that OKC want to build around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who's shown enough potential to be labeled a future franchise player. He even started the season well, averaging well over 20 points per game with a shooting accuracy of nearly 40% from downtown. But ever since the blowout game against Indiana, perhaps the only game where OKC failed to entirely show up this season, Shai has been struggling with confidence. His percentages have dropped and so has his production per game.
The sophomore has been passing up wide-open shots from distance in favor of driving to the bucket and when given the responsibility to run the show, he's been rather underwhelming. This just goes to show that Gilgeous-Alexander who became too comfortable playing off the ball with the Los Angeles Clippers, still needs to do some work to make an impact with the ball in his hands. This is where Paul comes in.
If it's not imperative enough from his interviews, CP3 is relishing the fact that he's getting to play alongside young talents in Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, and Hamidou Diallo. The players themselves have been quite open about it:
"He has been great. He’s like a big brother,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He is teaching me things every day. Always talking and trying to help.” [H/T: Marc J Spears]
Ask any other NBA veteran, be it LeBron James or be it Carmelo Anthony, you'll only hear odes of just how amazing that basketball mind of Paul is. He's the proper locker room leader you'd love to have in your lineup. And the more time this Thunder roster spends with CP3, especially the younger stars, the more you give them a chance to develop.
CP3 is still clutch and OKC can still contend
For a rebuilding team, OKC still have several stars who are performing well on a nightly basis. Danilo Gallinari has been taking over games in desperate times while Steven Adams also seems to be on a roll following a slow start to the season.
While he's still racking only 15 points per game, Chris Paul is the go-to guy for the Thunder in the clutch. The interplay between Gallo and him has seen OKC contest games well down the stretch. They currently boast of an 8-12 record but those numbers could have easily been the other way round. Dennis Schroder's still providing an offensive thrust off the bench while Nerlens Noel's contract is an absolute bargain for the things he does on both ends of the court inside the paint.
The case in point is that notwithstanding their far too regular collapses in the third quarter, the Thunder are playing to win each day and coming close every time. They don't boast of an offensive guy who can simply put the team on his back and drag them across the finish line, but better coaching can help the franchise overcome that. And it's still too early in the season to assume that Billy Donovan cannot achieve that.
Oklahoma City has too many draft picks right now to fret over losing out on the lottery if they contend for the playoffs because aiming for the postseason has far too many benefits right now. If the Thunder finish in one of the lower playoff seeds or even miss out by a small margin, the trade values of their stars will rocket. There's also the added chance of Gallinari resigning with the franchise which is something I believe Sam Presti should aim for because he has looked every bit like the pure scorer OKC has needed for years now.
Coming back to the Chris Paul trade picture, there's simply no contending without him, for he may not be scoring enough, but he surely can dictate the flow of the game in the clutch. You remove him from the equation and there's simply no voice strong enough in the locker room to inspire the players.
Paul's not so great trade value can improve over time
Keeping Paul certainly comes at a cost. There's a chance that he gets injured and the Thunder are stuck with his contract forever. There's also a chance that OKC just bungle up and go on a downward spiral with him at the point. Having said that, the more time he spends with the rest of the roster, the more likely it becomes that his mentorship rubs off positively on the young guns.
The Thunder will have to cut a lot of corners if they are to move Paul before the trade deadline. However, if the front office is patient and the Thunder finish the season strongly, there are likely to be more suitors for Paul next summer. Additionally, teams are more likely to take on the $86 million that his contract will be worth next season as compared to the $124 million that it is valued at right now.
A huge inhibitor of interest in Paul was the narrative altering free agency market this season. Compare it to the possible free agents that are likely to hit the market next season and you'll be disappointed. In such a scenario, the chances of a desperate side taking on Paul's contract simply balloons.
There's no denying that Chris Paul is in decline. But the player that he has been over the years, and given the potential rewards of taking a risk with not trading him, the Thunder would do good to retain the 9-time All-Star. While there are substantial downsides to the move, the pros simply outweigh the cons at the moment.Published 06 Dec 2019, 17:07 IST