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As the Phoenix Suns try to reassemble a title contender over one offseason, no one outside of Devin Booker and Kevin Durant feels safe. It’s the reason we’re already here, talking about Chris Paul trades as one of three main options for the aging Hall-of-Famer.
Contrary to popular belief, the Suns don’t need a third star. If anything, new wrinkles in the upcoming CBA highly discourage that approach to team building. What they do need are more reliable, productive role players that complement their two superstars on both ends of the court. They need proven playoff performers who can defend, set the table, knock down 3s or attack openings when defenses pay Book and KD too much attention.
In other words, they need guys like Chris Paul…who are not set to earn $30.8 million next season.
Paul will be 39 by the time the next postseason rolls around, and he’s repeatedly struggled to stay healthy enough for the playoffs in Phoenix (and, sadly, throughout his career). Despite his trademark defiance, last season was the first time it felt like he was losing his battle against Father Time and injuries.
Game 2 against the Denver Nuggets was the quintessential argument for and against Chris Paul at this stage. With him healthy, the Suns had built an eight-point lead in the third quarter against the eventual NBA champs. But as soon as he pulled his groin, the Suns were outscored by 18 the rest of the way.
Maybe a healthy CP3 changes the outlook of the most competitive series Denver encountered all postseason. But the Suns never got to see what that looked like, and it’s past time to believe they can rely on him as the third-best player as a team with title aspirations.
If the Suns want to resurrect the Point God on a lesser salary, they can waive him, hope he clears waivers, pay him his $15.8 million in guaranteed money, and then try re-signing him for the veteran minimum. If they want to free up more cap room, they can waive and stretch his guaranteed money (about $3.2 million on the books for five years) to push toward the non-taxpayer mid-level exception and biannual exception, but they could no longer re-sign him in that scenario.
Or, they could try to turn his $30.8 million contract into multiple role players via trade, which is their best option in theory. The only contracts on Phoenix’s books for next season are Booker, Durant, Paul, Deandre Ayton, Landry Shamet and Cam Payne ($2 million guaranteed of his $6.5 million salary), along with Ish Wainright’s team option ($1.9 million). They need able bodies to round out a championship-caliber rotation, but they have limited means to do so as an over-the-cap team.
However, a look at the Nuggets and Miami Heat shows how valuable the MLE can be, as well as the importance of finding contributors on middle-tier salaries. The contracts of Paul ($30.8 million) and Ayton ($32.5 million) are a little too rich for their on-court production, which is why their futures feel so precarious. Turning them into one or two role players each might be the right approach, even if none of the players they’re getting in return measures up to Paul or DA individually.
For Paul, it’s a little more complicated, since only $15.8 million of his contract is guaranteed. For salary-matching purposes, his full $30.8 million counts toward the suitor team’s incoming salary, but unless that team increased his guaranteed money (or the trade took place after the guarantee date of June 28), his outgoing salary for the Suns would only count for $15.8 million. That makes the math a bit trickier, but for our purposes (unless otherwise noted), we’re operating under the premise that these deals take place after Paul’s salary is guaranteed, or that the team agrees to increase the guaranteed money to facilitate the deal.
To that end, it’s time to take a look at a few realistic Chris Paul trades to determine what his value might look like on the market. He’s clearly no longer the All-NBA force he was during his first two seasons in the Valley, but he’s not washed by any means, finishing fifth in the league in assists per game and shooting 37.8 percent from 3.
Even at age 38, he’s still one of the game’s most cerebral floor generals, and he’ll still be somewhat attractive for contenders, younger teams looking to make the next jump in the pecking order, or luxury tax teams hoping to stretch and waive his contract for salary cap relief.
NOTE: These trades are not suggestions of what the Suns should do, but rather, thought exercises to try and gauge what Paul’s value will be. Every trade needs to make sense for both parties, and most of them would require additional follow-up moves to justify the trade. In other words, think of these proposed deals as the first (or second) dominoes in the context of the full offseason, not some home run swing that will solve all of Phoenix’s roster needs in one fell swoop.
NOTE PT. 2: Again, we must emphasize that adding a third star on a max deal is not what the Suns need. Aside from the math getting substantially trickier in a sign-and-trade, adding a James Harden, Kyrie Irving or even a Fred VanVleet for upwards of $30 million, $40 million or $50 million severely limits Phoenix’s flexibility and almost guarantees they rocket past the NBA’s second luxury tax apron. Another blockbuster move isn’t out of the question, but our goal here is to be more realistic about Chris Paul’s trade value.
We’ll start with our most unrealistic trade, which Boston Celtics fans are sure to hate. Consider this the most optimistic interpretation of Paul’s trade value, which rides heavily on the notion that Boston needed someone with CP3’s experience, playmaking, ball-handling, and “absolutely the f**k not” mentality while they were falling apart against the 8-seeded Heat.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are already dangerous enough without a true point guard; now imagine Paul getting them easy looks and directing the offense when it got sloppy in the postseason. Granted, Paul’s availability at that time of year wouldn’t suddenly change in Boston, but the Celtics’ depth would give CP3 more opportunities to take it easier during the regular season — something Phoenix’s injury-riddled year didn’t permit.
In Smart, the Celtics are obviously losing the heart and soul of their team, as well as one of the best and most versatile defenders in the league. That alone might make this a non-starter, even if the Suns throw in a first-round pick swap. But Boston also needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror after missing out on a return trip to the Finals, and their payroll is about to get incredibly expensive between the two Jays.
Even after guaranteeing his full contract, Paul could eventually provide cap relief, since his entire $30 million salary for 2024-25 is non-guaranteed. Losing Smart stings, but all they’re really giving up otherwise is Payton Pritchard ($4 million team option) and Luke Kornet’s $2.4 million expiring deal.
The Suns give up yet another first-round pick swap and the guy who helped them become relevant again, but they get a younger guard in Smart who can take on all those pesky point-of-attack assignments on the defensive end. Smart still can’t really shoot from long range and he’s not a lead playmaker, but he did average 6.3 assists per game last season. There’d be more than enough playmaking to go around between him, Book and KD.
Smart is also under contract for around $20 million per season through 2026, giving coach Frank Vogel a terrific defensive weapon to deploy for the foreseeable future, as well as a decent backup in Pritchard and third-stringer in Kornet.
Ultimately though, this feels like Boston would be cashing in a little low on Smart’s league-wide value. As much as Paul might help them, it feels unlikely they’d trade one of the most intrinsic players to their identity for a 38-year-old making nearly $31 million.
New York Knicks
Now we move to the lower end of the spectrum, where Phoenix gets a worse starting center than the one they already have and a guy who got buried on Tom Thibodeau’s bench last year. Not ideal!
There’s little justification for this one, other than hoping Evan Fournier and Mitchell Robinson would account for two serviceable role players come playoff time.
Robinson feels closer to that description after averaging 7.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game on 67.1 percent shooting. His offense and shooting range are severely limited compared to DA, but he’s more of the rim-rolling big Phoenix wanted all along. More importantly, he’s a far more active rim protector, recording 109 blocks to Ayton’s 53 despite playing 444 fewer minutes last season. Robinson is also making an average salary of $14.3 million over the next three years — $20 million less per season than Ayton.
Fournier’s value has never been lower, appearing in just 27 games for the 4-seeded Knicks. However, he’s also a career 37.9 percent 3-point shooter on decent volume, and until last year, he had averaged between 14-19 points per game in each of his last seven seasons. In terms of being able to shoot and get his own bucket, the 30-year-old Fournier has value. Perhaps he could simply need a change of scenery.
The Knicks, meanwhile, would add Paul’s veteran experience and know-how to a young group looking to take that next step in the playoffs, much like the Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder did under his watch.
However, he and Jalen Brunson would make for an extremely small backcourt, and taking the ball out of the hands of Brunson, RJ Barrett and even Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes seems ill-advised. Vogel would certainly get the best out of a shot-blocker like Robinson, but the 25-year-old is still a worse overall player than DA and has a lower ceiling.
Chris Paul and the Twins reunite in Brooklyn!
There’s a good chance the Nets prefer to keep their hodgepodge of serviceable wings and guards long enough to A) See what they’ve got with this group and B) Flip the pieces that don’t fit at next year’s trade deadline. Keeping floor-spacers like Joe Harris and Royce O’Neale makes sense within that context.
However, neither one of those guys feels indispensable either. Harris shot 42.6 percent from long range, but he struggled in his first season back after multiple ankle surgeries. His scoring and playing time dipped to 7.6 points in 20.6 minutes per game, and he contributed even less in Brooklyn’s first-round playoff sweep.
O’Neale was more of a mainstay in Jacque Vaughn’s rotation, but he’s the exact type of unsexy, under-the-radar, 3-and-D prospect Phoenix should be targeting now. His 38.9 percent shooting from deep completely shriveled up to 18.2 percent in that first-round sweep, and it wasn’t the first time that happened, since he shot 28 percent from 3 in six playoff games with the Utah Jazz the year prior.
But the two years before that, he was at 45.5 percent and 46.7 percent on similar volume. Perhaps he just needs to be on a legitimate playoff team again to start knocking down those looks?
In any case, the Suns flip Paul for two decent wing role players, hoping Harris can regain his pre-injury form again and hoping O’Neale can be more consistent with his 3-ball when they need it most. Harris is a $19.9 million expiring contract who’d be movable at the deadline if he didn’t pan out, while O’Neale is on a team-friendly, $9.5 million expiring deal.
The Nets, meanwhile, add a much-needed ball-handler and playmaker to take the pressure off Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie to create everything — something they both struggled with at times during Brooklyn’s first-round exit.
If it feels like John Collins has been on the trade block for years, it’s only because he has been. It’s time he and the Atlanta Hawks mercifully parted ways, even if it’s only because they’re trading him so to waive and stretch CP3’s contract into sweet cap relief. This trade needs more pieces to facilitate, however, since increasing Paul’s guaranteed money wouldn’t make sense for a team trying to clear out payroll.
Atlanta may also need to waive a non-guaranteed salary or two in order to stay beneath the second tax apron so they can take on the full 125 percent of trade value, rather than be reduced to 110 percent. Bruno Fernando, Garrison Matthews, Vit Krejci and Tyrese Martin all fit the criteria.
Assuming they can clear up the wiggle room to make this move, the Hawks are about to have one of the most expensive teams in basketball despite being exceedingly average. Collins is a guy who doesn’t really excel in any one area outside of breathtaking alley-oop finishes, so as much as Atlanta is getting very little on-court value for their 25-year-old high-riser, their options for trading him and finding salary cap room are slim. If the last few trade deadlines have taught us anything, it’s that Collins’ value is pretty low.
So while the Hawks get their cap relief, the Suns get a legitimate power forward who’s been a double-digit scorer in all six of his NBA seasons. His 3-point efficiency would be the biggest question mark, since he had shot 40.1, 39.9 and 36.4 percent from deep over the last three years…until plummeting to 29.2 percent last year. Moving KD back to the 3 is only viable if Collins can capably spread the floor, especially if DA is still clogging the paint and the Suns no longer have CP3 to facilitate pick-and-rolls.
The Hawks get the best big in the trade, they waive and stretch CP3’s contract into a measly $3.2 million over the next five years, they get a decent shooter in Shamet who has zero guaranteed money on his contract beyond this season, and they shed tons of long-term salary between Collins ($51.9 million over the next two years, plus a $26.6 million player option for 2025-26), Clint Capela ($42.9 over the next two years) and Bogdan Bogdanovic ($52 over the next three years, plus a $16 million team option for 2026-27).
“Long-term salary” seems like a scary sentence for a team like the Suns, but getting Capela for around $20 million per season and Bogdanovic for an average of $17 million per season is actually pretty great value — even with Collins’ $26 million per year being as inflated as it is.
Aside from 2021 Playoff DA, Capela is the prototype for what the Suns need: a rim-rolling big who can block shots at the rim and snag rebounds. He’s a superior shot-blocker (1.2 in 26.6 minutes per game last year) and rebounder (11.0 per game), he’s an efficient finisher (65.3 percent shooting), and he’s only 29 years old, so he still has quite a few good years left. He doesn’t have range to speak of, nor is he as mobile on the perimeter, but DA hasn’t exactly blown anyone away in that department lately either.
As for Bogdanovic, he’s the exact type of clutch shot-maker and creator playoff teams need in tight situations. He can shoot as a career 38.7 percent 3-point shooter, he’s averaged at least 14 points per game in each of the last five seasons, and he’s an ideal sixth man for a contender because he can create for himself or for others as a secondary playmaker.
Maybe the Hawks would require a first-round pick swap or multiple second-rounders to sweeten the pot for all these serviceable role players, but DA would give Trae Young and Dejounte Murray a younger pick-and-roll partner as well as a much-needed fresh start. Jettisoning Collins and stretching Paul would provide vital salary cap relief, and the Hawks could hit the reset button without having to completely blow it up.
Again, we’re not tackling a more complicated VanVleet sign-and-trade until there’s literally any indication it’s actually feasible. Until then, can we interest you in Gary Trent Jr. and the ghost of Thaddeus Young?
For the Raptors, there are worse fallback plans in the event VanVleet signs elsewhere in free agency. Toronto still hasn’t made it clear whether they’re leaning closer to rebuilding or retooling, but if they want to put a team around Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes quickly, there are few players available with a better track record for rapidly turning organizations around than Chris Paul.
For Phoenix, this is hardly a fitting return for a player of Paul’s stature, but Trent can shoot. He’s a career 38.4 percent shooter from beyond the arc on a whopping 6.3 attempts per game, and he’s been a 15-points-per-game scorer for three straight seasons now. The Suns could use some of that coming off their bench, and he only turned 24 in January.
Young is basically just a throw-in the match salaries, given that he’s 34 years old and was barely playing minutes in the teens for a Raptors squad that missed the playoffs. Young is no longer the guy we considered here back in 2021, and to further complicate matters, Trent would have to opt into his $18.6 million player option just to make this work.
It’s not out of the question that he does so, since landing a new contract worth more annual salary might prove difficult thanks to all the new CBA stipulations that punish larger payrolls. But given the return in a package like this…are we sure trading CP3 is the right call over simply keeping him or waiving him?
This is probably one of our least likely scenarios, given where Orlando is right now. Markelle Fultz is hardly a cornerstone, but he’s still a significant cog in the Magic’s youth machine, and he’s finally looking like a starting-caliber point guard.
With that being said…we’re also not going to act like Fultz’s 14.0 points, 5.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game last season were anything close to the type of production that was expected out of this former No. 1 overall pick. Entering his seventh year in the league, playing for an Orlando team that won 34 games, this 25-year-old is neither a finished product nor untouchable.
Maybe the Magic are content letting their youngsters continue to grow together and don’t desire an instant catalyst like Paul, who would push them into playoff territory again. Or maybe this formerly playoff-hungry franchise wants to taste the postseason again, and maybe they recognize that Fultz ($17 million) and Gary Harris ($13 million) are expiring contracts that might not be worth reinvesting in during the 2024 offseason.
If that’s the case, and if the Magic want to hand the reins over to a more experienced floor general instead, maybe this isn’t as crazy as it sounds? Banishing Paul to a lottery team in the Eastern Conference would be a cruel reward for all he’s given the Suns, but they need to do what’s best for them with their championship aspirations within reach.
Whether Fultz helps them get closer is debatable. He’d be a downgrade from Paul overall, but at least he’d be a step in a younger direction. His wingspan and defensive instincts would make for a great fit under Vogel, he’s enough of a playmaker for Phoenix’s high-powered offense to keep churning, and there’s room for growth — even if he still can’t shoot 3s.
As for Harris, who turns 29 in September, he’s a seasoned vet that’s been languishing away on losing Magic teams for too long. Like Fultz, he’s not the most reliable guy from a health perspective, but he’s a career 37 percent shooter from downtown who canned a career-best 43.1 percent of his triples last season. Even in a bench role, he’s a near double-digit scorer who can defend on the perimeter.
Turning Paul into one young floor general with potential and one 3-and-D guard would almost feel like a haul at this point.
We get it: Suns fans hate Marcus Morris, and Marcus Morris hates the Suns. Grow up, would ya?
In all seriousness, this is another underwhelming return for Paul’s particular importance to this Suns squad. It doesn’t solve Phoenix’s need for a starting point guard, and all they get in return is two good-but-nowhere-near-great wings.
HOWEVER. Morris is a career 37.6 percent shooter who’s been able to adapt to a number of teams as a double-digit scorer throughout his journeyman career, and both the Morrii have remained supportive of Booker from afar. Morris is also on a $17.1 million expiring deal.
Batum has shot 40.4, 40.0 and 39.1 percent from 3 over his last three years in LA as well. If he’s a no-go in trade talks, Robert Covington is a versatile defender that Vogel could put to good use. Both Batum and RoCo are on $11.7 million expiring salaries:
With that being said, the Clippers’ interest in Paul may depend on what happens with Russell Westbrook. After a revelatory first-round playoff series against Phoenix, Westbrook should be LA’s priority in free agency. In fact, the Clippers may only want Paul if they can sign him on the free agency market after being waived. Parting with assets just to pay him $31 million would be a curious decision over simply re-signing Russ.
As for the Suns, the returns on these offers feel underwhelming. Covington turns 33 in December, Morris turns 34 in September and Batum turns 35 in December too. Adding a few long wings with serviceable 3-point touch is nice, but it’s probably not enough to sway either side here.
Los Angeles Lakers
Like the Clippers, the Lakers can probably sit back and be content, knowing that they’ll be in the running for Paul if he’s waived. Until that point in time, they feel like an unlikely trade suitor.
However, for the sake of argument, Malik Beasley was all but axed from Darvin Ham’s playoff rotation after the second round. His defense was the main culprit, and Vogel would have his hands full in hiding some of Beasley’s flaws on that end.
The offensive benefits are obvious though. Beasley hovered around 35 percent shooting from distance this season, but he’s a career 37.8 percent shooter who was closer to 40 percent in three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s been a double-digit scorer for close to five years now, and his $16.5 million team option is a perfectly manageable contract.
Mo Bamba is not the answer the Suns need at center in the event of a DA trade, but he helps the salaries match and is still only 25 years old. If anyone can extract value from this former top-10 pick, it’s a defensive-minded coach like Vogel. In the playoffs, Bamba saw even less action than Beasley, so his $10.3 million, fully non-guaranteed contract is expendable for LA.
Paul could help reinvigorate an aging LeBron James, and he’d get the best out of Anthony Davis as a pick-and-roll partner. The Suns…would only get a serviceable wing and a third-string big whose ceiling is “backup” in return. Considering what their rival would receive, maybe re-enacting the Steve Nash trade from 2012 is a bad idea after all.
Golden State Warriors
From a pure trade value perspective, this seems absolutely bonkers from the Warriors’ perspective. Jordan Poole is still only 23 years old, he’s been a near 20-points-per-game scorer for two straight years now, and the Dubs would be dumping him on a division rival just one year after winning a championship together.
That all may be true, but the benefits of swimming in this Poole started to feel a little shallow after a tumultuous season that started with an actual fistfight. Draymond Green bore the brunt of that blame, but Golden State will always choose him over Poole, who is now on a wildly inflated salary that will pay an average of $31.3 million over the next four years.
He may have averaged a career-high 20.4 points per game this season, but it came on .430/.336/.870 shooting splits. In the playoffs, Poole shriveled up to 10.3 points per game on 34.1 percent shooting overall and 25.4 percent shooting from the deep end.
Everyone has a bad playoff series or two, but between that, the punch heard ’round the world and the implementation of a second luxury tax apron, Golden State is running out of options. They’ve got extensions coming up for both Draymond and Klay Thompson, and if they want to avoid a hefty luxury tax fee, as well as the loss of their MLE and several other team-building tools, they need to shed salary, fast.
Trading Poole for Chris Paul and then waiving and stretching him is the quickest “get out of jail free” card the Dubs could hope to find…but there’s a catch. Because only $15.8 million of Paul’s guaranteed money counts for the Suns outgoing salary, but the full $30.8 million counts as incoming salary for the Dubs, the only way this works is if the Warriors agree to increase Paul’s guaranteed portion in order to facilitate the deal. They could then waive and stretch his contract, but instead of the figure being $3.2 million on the books over the next five years, it’d probably be closer to $5-6 million.
Is going from Poole’s $27.9 million salary with with escalating figures to paying Paul $5-6 million over the next five years enough incentive to pull the trigger here? That’s debatable. The Suns would probably have to throw in a first-round pick swap to grease the wheels, because trading a perfectly good, young player for pure cap space — and having to increase his guaranteed money in the process — doesn’t happen very often.
However, as crazy as it sounds, it’s not impossible either. The Warriors have an extremely expensive roster, but they can still be competitive with Stephen Curry, Klay, Draymond, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody on the books.
Watching one of Paul’s biggest rivals waive and stretch his contract would add insult to injury, but the Suns would land one of the highest-upside scorers on this entire list. His defense and shot selection can be problematic, but Phoenix needs irrational confidence guys who can hit big shots at inopportune moments. This is the ultimate buy-low example, and whether it’s actually realistic will depend on how desperate the Warriors are to duck below that second tax apron.
As the Atlanta Hawks of the East, the Timberwolves are going nowhere fast. Their roster is nowhere near as pricy as Atlanta’s, but there’s no question the Rudy Gobert trade put a damper on their prospects for the next few years.
So why not put a pick-and-roll maestro like Paul alongside him to wring every last drop of offensive potential out of him?
Mike Conley is a solid, steady, efficient player, and he had some big moments for Minnesota in the play-in/playoffs. But Paul is a vastly superior facilitator, and if anyone is going to make Gobert serviceable on that end, it’s a demanding Point God. T-Wolves fans may also relish the thought of Paul filling the Jimmy Butler void and lighting a fire under Karl-Anthony Towns, a player with all the talent in the world but not the requisite toughness.
Meanwhile, the Suns also throw in Cam Payne and his partially guaranteed contract, giving the Wolves an upgrade at backup point guard over Jordan McLaughlin.
As for the Suns, they land Conley, a capable vet who shot 42 percent from 3 last year, dished out 5.0 assists per game and has been through plenty of playoff battles. He’s a step slower as he approaches his 36th birthday in October, but he’s still a step quicker than Paul on the defense and represents the “jack of all trades” type Phoenix could use more of.
To match salaries, Minnesota also throws in Taurean Prince, a 29-year-old wing who’s managed to shoot 37.2 percent from 3 for his career despite bouncing all around the league. Prince is hardly a game-changing starter for this roster, but he’s a useful rotation piece who can defend a number of positions and knock down open 3s. Both he ($7.5 million) and Conley ($24.4 million) are on expiring deals.
However, the Wolves might be content with running it back and seeing if they can improve on last season’s late surge by staying healthy and building continuity. Paul is an upgrade who’s elevated playoff teams before, but he’s even older than Conley. At the very least, CP3’s non-guaranteed salary for 2024-25 and Payne’s expiring deal would allow Minnesota to maintain flexibility for that 2024 offseason.
As you can see, the options are underwhelming. Paul’s partially guaranteed salary makes the trade math more complicated, and looming overhead is the possibility teams can simply wait it out, force Phoenix to waive him and then try to bid on his services in free agency for a much lower price.
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