With the Oklahoma City Thunder set to fully commit to a rebuild next season (at least that’s where it seems things are headed for them after their split with former head coach Billy Donovan), rival teams are more than likely monitoring the team’s veteran pieces who could come available for trades.
One of those pieces, and by far the most expensive, is 10-time All-Star Chris Paul, coming off an impressive campaign where he averaged 17.6 points and 6.7 assists nightly while leading Oklahoma City on an unexpected run to the playoffs.
Paul proved this past season that he clearly has plenty left in the tank, and if it weren’t for the enormity of his contract, which is set to pay him $41.4 million in 2020-21 (making him the fifth-highest paid player in basketball next year) and $44.2 million the campaign after that, it’s more than likely he would have a new home by now, as Paul’s had a bevy of suitors since joining the Thunder.
Regardless, even with that scary mega-contract standing in the way, there’s a solid possibility Paul gets traded this offseason. And one of his potential new homes could be in Los Angeles to join LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers, the reigning 2019-20 champions.
According to a report from Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus, one Eastern Conference executive believes Paul would like to join the Lakers for the next step in his career:
“Chris Paul would love to come back to L.A. I know it would be a dream come true for Chris,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “I know LeBron loves and trusts him and he would be a good fit.”
From purely a basketball perspective, the potential fit between Paul and Los Angeles should be near perfect. Paul could take over some of the playmaking duties from James with the starting lineup, and his pick-and-roll potential with Davis would be downright terrifying.
After all, remember how deadly Paul and David West used to be for the then-New Orleans Hornets? Just imagine replacing West with Davis.
Nevertheless, what’s also scary is figuring out how the Lakers – financially – could swing a trade for a piece as expensive as Paul, especially when we consider how few salaries L.A. might have to work with, with just seven players locked into being on their roster in 2020-21.
The majority of the Lakers’ roster from last year will either be outright free agents this offseason or have the possibility to test free agency thanks to having player options on their contracts. The latter group includes Davis, who will reportedly opt out and re-sign with the Lakers right away, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (owed $8.5 million in 2020-21), Avery Bradley ($5.0 million), JaVale McGee ($4.2 million) and Rajon Rondo ($2.7 million), all key pieces for Los Angeles in their championship run besides Bradley, and all players who could interest rival franchises thanks to their team-friendly contracts.
One way to get the money to work in a potential Paul trade to the Lakers would be if Caldwell-Pope opts in and Los Angeles includes his contract, along with those of Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook while including draft capital. Technically, Los Angeles can trade their 2020 first-rounder, but they’d have to wait 30 days after drafting said prospect to do so, which could negatively affect the value of the asset.
Besides that, the Lakers don’t have a first-round pick they can trade until 2026. That pick could hold a good amount of value in the eyes of other teams, though, as there’s no guarantee Los Angeles will still be a top-end contender at that point, not with James being 41 years old by then. Sure, the GOAT candidate is aging extremely well right now, but at some point, he has to start showing some sort of regression.
So, to recap: Caldwell-Pope, Green, Kuzma, Caruso, Cook and a 2026 first-round pick works financially for Paul, though it could be seen as an overpay by the Lakers, one that would leave them with none of the depth that helped them win the 2020 championship and with the undersized 35-year-old floor general in their stead.
Paul may still be great, but how long before he starts showing his age? Would he be worth the Lakers losing that many solid role players and a potentially great draft asset?
That’s not the only package for Los Angeles that works in a theoretical Paul trade, however. Pincus of Bleacher Report outlined another one in his recent article:
If James set his sights on Paul, the Lakers would have to send out five players: Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and Quinn Cook, along with Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee, who need to opt into their contracts to be dealt. L.A. would also need to send its No. 28 pick in November’s draft, signing that player before waiting 30 days to execute a deal in which the Lakers would offload almost $33 million in players salaries
Either way, the Lakers would be losing a lot, as is to be expected when trying to swing a trade for an All-Star, especially one with Paul’s pedigree.
It’ll all come down to whether general manager Rob Pelinka thinks his team has enough as is to repeat or need to add a third star-level player to stay atop of the league in 2020-21.
The former definitely seems plausible, particularly with the level James and Davis performed at in the 2020 playoffs, but the latter is also possible, as the West still projects to be absurdly loaded while the East continues to improve, meaning the Lakers could use a Chris Paul-type player to extend their reign for another year.
At the end of the day, it’s a good problem for Los Angeles to have; championship decisions are certainly more fun to make than all others in the NBA.
For more on Chris Paul trade rumors, click here.
Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.