Chris Paul

Western Notes: Paul, Collins, Gordon

Despite being traded to a presumed non-contender, veteran star Chris Paul can help steady the ship of the Thunder if both sides choose to stay together this season, Chad Smith of Basketball Insiders writes.

Paul, who’s entering his 15th season, was traded from Houston to Oklahoma City in a major deal involving Russell Westbrook this past summer. In the agreement, Oklahoma City also acquired first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 as well as pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.

While the Thunder were thought to be rebuilding after sending away both Westbrook and superstar Paul George in separate deals, the team currently has Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Andre Roberson and other veterans under contract for the upcoming season.

Paul failed to keep his footing in Houston alongside star guard James Harden, but he’s made a career out of running teams at lead guard when the ball is primarily in his hands. The Thunder can opt to keep the 34-year-old, who’s due $38.5MM, $41.3MM and $44.2MM (player option) in each of the next three seasons, or look to trade him and offload his contract from their books.

There’s more out of the Western Conference tonight:

  • The Trail Blazers’ title hopes largely hinge on whether Zach Collins can properly adapt his game this season, Jack Winter of Basketball Insiders writes. Collins could be named the team’s starting power forward with Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless no longer on the roster, making it imperative that he improves his game on the perimeter and continues to adapt entering his third NBA season.
  • Eric Gordon will have four seasons’ worth of chances to guarantee the $20MM+ in the final year of his extension with the Rockets, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. Gordon’s extension also contains a minutes criteria that he will likely reach in order to guarantee the final season, which only happens if he makes the All-Star team or the Rockets win an NBA championship, Marks notes. Gordon has this season, the 2020/21 season, 2021/22, and 2022/23 to reach the criteria needed for the final year.

Thunder Expected To Take Patient Approach To Trading Chris Paul

From the moment Chris Paul was traded to the Thunder, the expectation was that OKC would trade him elsewhere. That may be what ultimately happen, though some around the league envision the Thunder being patient as they navigate the trade waters.

Several executives, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst explains on The Jump, believe the Thunder will “put out the message” that they are not looking to trade CP3, talking up his veteran presence and all the positives about having him on the squad.

The franchise will attempt to regain some leverage in negotiations with other teams, as OKC doesn’t want to attach assets such as a first-round pick in order to move Paul’s $38.5MM salary. Paul’s contract is what makes a trade tricky; not his talent, as, even at age 34, he’s a good starting point guard.

It’s previously been reported that GM Sam Presti would be happy to have Paul on the roster all season and that the point guard views the team as a playoff contender in the Western Conference.

Community Shootaround: Chris Paul

Insurance spokesman Chris Paul finds himself stranded in Oklahoma City at the moment and State Farm can’t help him.

Considered for many seasons as the world’s premier point guard, Paul is stuck on the rebuilding Thunder until GM Sam Presti can find a way to deal his monstrous contract. The Thunder granted Russell Westbrook his wish to be traded in the wake of Paul George‘s trade demand. Presti send the team’s longtime floor leader to the Rockets for Paul, a couple of first-round picks and the right to swap two others.

Paul has played most of his career with contenders that have fallen short in the playoffs. He’s now in an awkward spot with the Thunder, who are looking to build around young point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the top player acquired from the Clippers in the George deal. Dennis Schroder, the team’s sixth man, is also a natural point guard.

The remainder of the roster won’t strike fear into the hearts of opponents. The Thunder will be fortunate to win 30 games next season.

Moving Paul to another team won’t be easy. He’s due $38.5MM next season, $41.4MM in 2020/21 and $44.2MM in 2021/22 if he exercises his player option.

Perhaps a younger Chris Paul was worth all that money but age (34) and injuries have led to a decline. He averaged 15.6 PPG on 41.9% shooting, both career lows, last season.

Paul will probably begin the season with the Thunder and have to wait at least until mid-December, when the latest crop of free agents become trade eligible, to get rescued. A point guard injury could motivate a contender to bring in Paul to save their season.

The Heat have been mentioned as the most likely trade partner but they’d want a couple of first-rounders tossed in to ease the burden of Paul’s salary-cap swallowing contract. The Pistons have also been considered a possible suitor, since they could pair up Paul with former pick-and-roll partner Blake Griffin. However, they’re not keen on Paul’s contract, either, especially with Andre Drummond potentially headed to free agency next summer.

That brings us to our question of the day: Do you think Chris Paul will be on Oklahoma City’s roster all of next season? If not, which team will trade for him?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Inside The Rockets’ Trade For Russell Westbrook

Two days before the agreement that brought Russell Westbrook to Houston was completed, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was pessimistic that it would get done, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes in a retrospective of the deal. Feigen traces the steps that led to the Rockets’ latest high-stakes gamble and the Thunder’s decision to part with their franchise player.

Everything began late on July 5 when Kawhi Leonard announced he was joining the Clippers, followed by the news that Oklahoma City was trading Paul George there as well. Morey sent text messages to owner Tilman Fertitta and his son Patrick suggesting that a huge shakeup could be in the works in OKC. Other team officials were included in the discussion the next morning, then Morey talked to James Harden, who had already spoken to Westbrook.

“The discussion at that point among the basketball staff was, ‘Hey, we need to check in and see if this changes the direction.’ I guess there was a thought they might trade other guys like Russell,” Morey said. “You never know. At this point, it was pretty unknown.”

Morey placed a call to Thunder GM Sam Presti, but their early discussions remained general. They spoke frequently over the next few days as international prospects and other players were considered in a deal that eventually became Westbrook for Chris Paul and draft picks. Morey alerted Paul and his representatives that a potential trade was brewing. He also tried unsuccessfully to get a third team involved, although he wouldn’t reveal who he talked to.

“It didn’t seem that there would be a fit for both parties,” Morey said. “I told them (Tilman and Patrick Fertitta) quite a bit that it wasn’t going to happen because that’s what I believed. I didn’t think the pieces lined up. That’s why a three-team deal made sense. And I thought other teams would be more involved than we were; teams that had more fits.”

A day before the deal was completed, Presti expressed a preference for a two-team trade that was heavy on draft picks. The Thunder wound up with Houston’s top-four-protected selections in 2024 and 2026, along with two pick swaps that include top-four protection in 2021 and and top-10 protection in 2025. Once an agreement was reached, Morey tried to expand the deal by involving other teams, but he found interest was low. He said the hardest part was having to tell Paul that their partnership was over after two seasons.

“I hated that call,” Morey said. “I’m sure he hated it more. He’s been such a great player for us. We were moments away from winning a title with him.”

Thunder Notes: Roberson, George, SGA, Paul

After penning an editorial in The Oklahoman to try to explain the Thunder‘s offseason to fans, head of basketball operations Sam Presti appeared in front of reporters today to discuss what has been an eventful offseason in Oklahoma City. Presti hadn’t addressed the media since draft night, so he had a lot of ground to cover in today’s session.

Besides discussing the deals that sent Paul George to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to Houston, Presti also shared some news, telling reporters – including Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman – that injured swingman Andre Roberson is on track to be ready for the start of the 2019/20 season.

It has been a year and a half since Roberson last played in an NBA game. Since rupturing his left patellar tendon in January 2018, the veteran has experienced multiple setbacks and delays in his rehab process. However, Presti says he’s “really excited” for Roberson to return to OKC’s lineup this season.

Here are a few more of the highlights from Presti, via Lee and Royce Young of ESPN:

On new Clipper Paul George referring to his split with the Thunder as “mutual”:

“I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that because that would infer that we were wanting to trade Paul George, which I think most people would agree that that probably wasn’t on the top of our offseason priority list. But I would say that it was not adversarial at all, and I also fully respect the way that it was handled. And the fact that we were able to make it work in a way that benefited the franchise made it something that we could do.”

On whether he considered denying George’s trade request:

“I wouldn’t say that we were going to appease the request simply because it was made, but more than anything, it was because of the fact that we were able to get the return that we did, which then allowed us to accommodate what he was looking for, as well.

“… I just don’t think for us, we can take that risk, given the lengths that we had gone to to try to keep the run that we started in 2008 together, one more year without everybody being totally on board knowing that we could be faced with the exact same situation, from a business perspective, from a practical perspective, it would be irresponsible not to look at that opportunity. And it worked out.”

On acquiring Shai Gilgeous-Alexander:

“To get Shai is a big deal for us. We’re really excited about him. I think he’s not really even scratching the surface. … I think he’s got tremendous makeup, and I think that’s going to be a big accelerator for ultimately how good a player he becomes, and I think he has that. He’s got great size and great length, and he’s a sponge.”

On Chris Paul‘s future in Oklahoma City:

“I can’t give you a forecast on how many years or anything like that, especially after … some of this transition we’re going through right now. But I would say that we’re excited about having him here. He’s excited about the opportunity here. And I think he has an opportunity to really impact the team in a positive way. … I do know that I think he’s going to have a really good year for us, and I do think he’s excited about the opportunity to have an impact on the team.”

Southwest Notes: Harden, Westbrook, K. Williams, Barea

Rockets star James Harden made his first public comments on a reported rift with former teammate Chris Paul, relays Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle. After Houston was knocked out of the playoffs, stories emerged that Harden and Paul had a toxic relationship and could no longer exist in the same environment. Harden admits on-court arguments with Paul, who was traded to Oklahoma City last week, but insists the reports were exaggerated.

“It was just pretty funny how guys can speculate or make up false stories on the TV and then you’ve got people believing it,” he said. “That’s where guys have to make sure their facts are true before they put stuff in the media or on national television. But for me personally, and I’m sure for Chris as well, we never paid any attention to it. And Chris has been unbelievable these last two years. He’s helped me as a leader, as a mentor, just all that good stuff. I guess it’s life. It’s the business, how things don’t work out. But he’s a great dude. I have nothing negative to say about him.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Harden told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle that he has no concerns about meshing his talents with Russell Westbrook‘s, citing their previous experience playing together in Oklahoma City and with the 2012 Olympic team. “When you have talent like that, it works itself out,” Harden said. “You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”
  • Pelicans small forward Kenrich Williams received a $200K guarantee on his contract for 2019/20 by remaining on the roster yesterday, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic. Williams’ $1,416,852 salary will become fully guaranteed on opening night.
  • Mavericks guard J.J. Barea has decided not to play for Puerto Rico in the FIBA World Cup tournament, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. It has been less than eight months since Barea had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles, and although he is encouraged by his progress, he believes it’s too soon to risk playing competitively.

And-Ones: Paul, Sylla, Tampering, Canada

In an interesting piece regarding Chris Paul‘s role as the head of the NBA Players Union, Tom Ziller of SB Nation opines that Paul’s reported insistence and hand in incorporating the Over-38 Rule into the 2017 CBA has now ironically landed him with one the most untradeable contracts in the NBA.

Paul, who is admittedly now under contract to make more money because of the rule change, is also stuck on the Thunder, a non-contending team, with no real way out until later this year when the latest crop of free agents become trade eligible.

Ultimately, Ziller opines that the tradeoff (non-contending team vs. an extra $45MM) was worth it for Paul, but wonders whether CP3, as union president, sacrificed the good of many (mid-level earners) for the benefit of few.

We have more odds and ends to report from around the basketball world:

  • Amar Sylla, the No. 23 prospect for the 2020 NBA Draft, has signed a three-year contract containing NBA out clauses with Belgian league champions BC Oostende, reports Jonathan Givony of ESPN.
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer writes that many executives believe the penalty for tampering needs to be harsher, including the removal of first-round picks or even as severe as being barred from trading any picks for some amount of years in addition to the loss of picks. “Basketball operations needs to get hit the hardest, not an owner’s wallets,” said another executive.
  • Canada Basketball has announced the 29 players invited to attend the Senior Men’s National Team training camp ahead of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. The list includes R.J. Barrett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Cory Joseph, Jamal Murray, and Tristan Thompson.

Heat Notes: Paul, Beal, Expiring Contracts, Waiters

The Heat and Thunder never came close to making a deal involving Chris Paul, tweets Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.

Miami was pursuing Russell Westbrook before Oklahoma City agreed to trade him to Houston last week. The focus shifted to a possible deal that would bring Paul to the Heat, but they don’t have the same level of enthusiasm about acquiring him that they did for Westbrook. (Twitter link). A report today indicates that Oklahoma City is pessimistic about its chances of moving Paul and may keep him on the roster for the entire season.

The Heat were only willing to take on the three years and $124MM left on Paul’s contract if OKC met certain demands, including the return of Miami’s draft picks for 2021 and 2023, Jackson adds. The Heat are reluctant to absorb that much salary because it would restrict their flexibility for the summer of 2021.

There’s more from South Florida:

  • Miami’s next chance to add a star could come if Bradley Beal turns down an extension offer from the Wizards, according to Jackson (Twitter link). He suggests the Heat will be among the teams contacting Washington about Beal if they don’t reach an agreement. Beal will become eligible for the extension, which would pay him $111MM over three seasons, on July 26. Jackson notes that the Wizards have turned aside all trade offers involving Beal so far, but he will become a free agent in 2021 without the extension.
  • Some of the Heat’s expiring contracts don’t look so bad after this summer’s spending and may prove to be valuable trade assets, writes Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel. Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson both have 2020/21 player options, but Winderman states that Olynyk might opt out of his $13.2MM salary in view of this year’s market. Johnson is more likely to opt in for $16MM because of his age. Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard have expiring deals with no options and are expected to be trade chips.
  • Frustrated by jokes over his body last season, Dion Waiters showed off his leaner, stronger physique in an Instragram post Monday, as relayed in an ESPN story. Waiters admits to being in a “dark place mentally & physically” during the past season as he tried to shake off the effects of an ankle injury.

Chris Paul Likely To Start Season In OKC

The Thunder haven’t found any success in their attempts to trade Chris Paul, and he appears destined to be on their roster when the season begins in October, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Moving Paul has seemed like the next logical step since a trade that brought him from Houston in exchange for Russell Westbrook was agreed upon last week. The deal become official last night, but it appears any potential market for Paul has dried up.

The Thunder have been working with the nine-time All-Star and his representatives to find an acceptable deal, but both sides now see benefits to having him spend the season in Oklahoma City, Wojnarowski adds. Because the trade happened so far into free agency, few contenders have the flexibility to take on Paul, who will make $124MM over the next three years. OKC may re-examine its options once most of the newly signed free agents become eligible to be traded on December 15, or after next season is complete.

GM Sam Presti would be happy to have Paul for the entire season, Woj relays, and Paul views the Thunder as a playoff contender with Danilo GallinariSteven AdamsDennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander already in place. Woj adds that the Thunder don’t believe they should have to give up any draft considerations to move Paul’s contract. They acquired two first-rounders and two pick swaps in the deal with Houston.

Thunder, Rockets Swap Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul

JULY 16: The trade is official, according to a Thunder press release.

“We recently had conversations with Russell about the team, his career, and how he sees the future,” GM Sam Presti said. “Through those conversations we came to the understanding that looking at some alternative situations would be something that made sense for him. As a result, and due to his history with the Thunder, we worked together to accommodate this,” said Presti. “Our ability to have these types of conversations and work so closely with Russell and his agent Thad Foucher is only possible because of the depth of the relationship that has been built over the last 11 years.
“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state. None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

JULY 11: The Rockets have acquired Russell Westbrook. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com (Twitter link), Houston will send Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two pick swaps to Oklahoma City in exchange for the eight-time All-Star.

The Thunder will receive the Rockets’ first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, according to Wojnarowski. Shams Charania of the Athletic tweets that those selections are each top-four protected.

Oklahoma City will also have the right to swap first-round picks with the Rockets during the 2021 and 2025 drafts, though those have protections as well. The 2021 swap is top-four protected, while the 2025 swap is top-20 protected, per Charania.

GM Sam Presti worked with Westbrook and his agent to send the point guard to Houston, which was his preferred destination, Wojnarowski tweets. Westbrook will reunite with James Harden, whom he previously played with on the Thunder (before the team traded Harden to the Rockets). Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link) hears that the push for a reunion came from both sides.

The Paul George trade request opened the door for another superstar to move this summer. The Thunder began an unexpected retooling process in the wake of trading George, leaving Westbrook in a curious position.

Rumors of the Paul-Harden relationship souring popped up this summer, with a report from Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports describing the relationship as “unsalvageable” and suggesting that CP3 wanted a trade. Both Paul and GM Daryl Morey shot down that report, but there was still widespread speculation that the team would try to move Paul.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com tweets that Presti has spoken to Paul’s agent, Leon Rose. Rose, who also represents Carmelo Anthony, worked with the team last summer on an exit strategy for ‘Melo.

The Thunder’s plan as of now is to keep Paul alongside Danilo Gallinari and remain competitive, Sam Amick of The Athletic hears (Twitter link). Still, Amick cautions that at this stage in his career, the point guard isn’t going to be patient.

Paul, whose contract runs through 2021/22, will make $38.5MM in the 2019/20 season, with roughly $86MM due to him over the following two seasons. Westbrook will also make $38.5MM this upcoming season and he’ll take home $132.6MM over the ensuing three seasons. The two deals are essentially identical, with Westbrook’s running for an extra season. Both of the point guards also have a player option on the end of their contracts, though it’s unlikely that either will decide to hit the open market a year early.

Westbrook has a 15% trade bonus in his contract, but because he’s already earning a maximum salary, the bonus will be voided, ESPN’s Bobby Marks adds on Twitter.

Paul, 34, slowed signs of slowing down during the 2018/19 season. Injuries limited him to just 58 games, and his 15.6 PPG and .419 FG% were both the lowest marks of his 14-year career. However, he still chipped in 8.2 APG and 2.0 SPG while helping to lead the Rockets to the Western Semifinals.

As for Westbrook, his scoring average (22.9 PPG) was his lowest in five years and he went through some major shooting slumps en route to a .428/.290/.656 line. The 30-year-old still managed to average a triple-double for the third consecutive year though, contributing 11.1 RPG and a league-leading 10.7 APG to go along with 1.9 SPG.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.