The blockbuster trade between the Thunder and Rockets that will send Russell Westbrook to Houston and Chris Paul to Oklahoma City has yet to be technically finalized, but OKC’s head of basketball operations Sam Presti continues to explore potential destinations for Paul.
Although the Heat appear to be the most likely suitor for Paul, Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald continues to be skeptical of Miami’s level of interest in the veteran point guard. According to Jackson, the Heat are listening to the Thunder and won’t rule anything out, but they’re not actively pursuing CP3.
Appearing on SportsCenter on Monday, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst outlined some of the obstacles in the way of a deal between the Heat and Thunder, as Chris Grenham of NESN.com relays.
“When you talk about [Paul] potentially going to the Miami Heat, which is his preference, one thing I’ve been told in the talks; the fact that the Thunder hold the two of the Heat’s first-round picks in the future — unprotected 2021, protected 2023 — makes this a difficult conversation because the Heat want those picks back,” Windhorst said (video link). “The Thunder have expressed an interest in giving one of those picks back, but they would want another pick farther off into the future.
“So I do think that these two teams have a lot to talk about, but because of those picks, it’s something that could get complicated, and the Thunder have let it to be known they are in no hurry.”
In his analysis of the potential trade discussions between the two clubs, Jackson conveyed a similar sentiment, suggesting that the Heat would want their draft picks back from the Thunder and cautioning that he wouldn’t expect Presti to be on board with that. Jackson also speculated that the Heat might want Paul to agree to decline his 2021/22 player option to help the club maintain future cap flexibility — that would be a lot to ask of the nine-time All-Star, whose option will be worth $44.2MM.
As cap expert Albert Nahmad notes (via Twitter), the Thunder acquired two first-round picks by swapping Westbrook for Paul. If Oklahoma City were to surrender two first-rounders to move Paul, the club wouldn’t really be coming out ahead in terms of assets, and would have little to show for giving up its former MVP. Presumably, the Thunder will be prepared to hang onto Paul into the season if Miami (or another team) isn’t willing to meet their asking price.
While the Heat still look like the best potential fit for Paul, there are so many complicating factors involved – including both teams’ cap and tax concerns – that it’s hard to imagine Miami and Oklahoma City quickly bridging the gap and agreeing to terms. It will be interesting to see if the Thunder and Rockets finalize their part of the trade this week, or if they continue to hold off on making it official in case it can be turned into a three-team deal.