Where is Chris Paul going to play basketball next season?
Last week, the eight-time All-NBA selection was shipped to Oklahoma City in exchange for former MVP Russell Westbrook, effectively ending Westbrook’s 11-year run in a Thunder uniform.
Things have turned dramatically for the Thunder – last season, they were the toast of the off-season, effectively selling a rental player in Paul George on the idea of re-signing while building a deep roster that looked like a contender. Now, George and Westbrook are both gone, and Oklahoma City is in the midst of its first-ever rebuild.
With six first round picks in the next three years alone and 15 total through 2026, Thunder general manager Sam Presti has secured a plethora of valuable assets for the two disgruntled stars. That would also lend to the belief, however, that Presti didn’t trade for the 34-year old Paul to play him.
While Oklahoma City will almost certainly trade Paul and try to net more picks, it’s hard to envision a team that is going to want to take on his contract. Paul is signed through the 2020-2021 season, when he’s slated to make roughly $41.4 million. If he opts into his player option the following season, Paul’s contract will end up paying him right around $124.1 million over the next three years.
An expiring deal is one thing, but this is a long-term commitment for a player whose numbers have already started to dip. That regression is likely just getting started, which complicates the process even more.
Still, there’s likely going to be a team in the league desperate enough – much like Daryl Morey was last off-season – to win a championship, they’ll add Paul while he still adds value to a team, then deal with his contract later. A buyout seems extremely unlikely, considering the astronomically-high yearly figure and the time remaining on the deal.
Therefore, OKC will likely have to incentivize the deal, much like the Rockets did in the initial trade, to move Paul’s contract. That means a prospective deal would either end up looking like one step forward and two steps back, or a massive favor for Russell Westbrook, who wanted to be in Houston. Either way, Paul can still be a valuable asset for a team that might feel like it’s only a point guard away from contending, especially with the window for a championship more open than it’s been in recent memory.
If anything, the Thunder took this risk on at the right time, with the number of teams in play for a championship spiking this season. That being said, is going to be willing to take the $124.1 million gamble?
Page 2: Two Awful Contracts
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