The NBA Draft is less than six weeks away. Traditionally, trade talks between teams pick up at this point on the league calendar.
There are people with the organization who continue to see Paul as someone who can help jump-start their efforts to build a winning culture. So it’s safe to assume that the Knicks have and will continue to explore their options for a Paul trade.
One important factor here: where does Paul want to go? If recent history is any indication, Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti will, within reason, send a star player to a preferred destination. He’s done so in trades of Paul George (to the Los Angeles Clippers) and Russell Westbrook (to Houston).
So it’s fair to assume that Paul can influence his destination, if both he and OKC feel its time to move on.
“If Chris Paul decides he wants to go to Philly, they’ll figure it out. That’s kind of where the league is now and there are certain guys that have that cache,” says David Jacober, a former strategy consultant for NBA teams and current player agent at Max Q Advisors. “If he says, I want to go to the Celtics, the Celtics and the Thunder will figure it out.”
In addition to the Knicks, the Sixers and Bucks reportedly have interest in trading for Paul.
With that in mind, we asked Jacober and salary cap expert Albert Nahmad to help us sort through some potential trade packages the Knicks, Sixers and Bucks could make for Paul.
KNICKS: There are scenarios where the Knicks can take Paul’s 2020-21 salary into cap space. There are also scenarios where New York still has significant cap space (more than $20 million) to spend on free agents before completing a trade for Paul, who will make $41.4 million in 2020-21.
The Knicks and Thunder could agree to the trade in principle before the draft and execute it in the NBA’s next calendar year.
In this scenario, based on the cap remaining at $109 million for next season, Nahmad notes that the Knicks would have to send out at least $33 million in salary to take back Paul’s $41.4 million contract (if the 2020-21 cap drops significantly the Knicks may be less inclined to trade for Paul).
There are several different ways for the Knicks to execute a Paul trade while maintaining at least $20 million in cap space.
Before the end of this calendar year**, the Knicks would officially exercise Portis’ team option (which would officially make him tradable).
The Knicks would let Payton’s $8.0M salary become fully guaranteed.*
The Knicks would let Theo Pinson’s $1.7M team option expire unexercised.
In the new NBA calendar year, the Knicks would renounce Moe Harkless’ $16.5M cap hold, waive Taj Gibson’s $9.5M salary, and stretch his remaining $1 million guarantee over three years**, waive Wayne Ellington’s $8 million salary, and stretch him and waive Reggie Bullock’s $4.2 million salary, and stretch his remaining $1 million guarantee over three years.
This scenario would leave the Knicks with $22 million of cap space to use before executing the trade. Once they use the cap space, the Knicks would trade Portis, Payton, Knox, Ntilikina and the future first-round pick for Paul.
After the trade, the Knicks could also use the $4.8 million room mid-level exception minimum deals to round out the roster.
They could also go over the cap to re-sign Damyean Dotson, who is a restricted free agent.
Obviously, this assumes that the Knicks would be willing to give up both Knox and Ntilikina for Paul and that Presti would do the deal. The trade gives Presti two expiring contracts, two young players and a future pick.
If you want to take either Ntilikina or Knox out of the trade, you can include different groupings of players to get to $33 million (including Julius Randle).
The Knicks could also include their 2020 lottery pick in a trade package with Portis, Payton and Knox to get to $33 million. In this scenario, they’d have to wait until 30 days after signing the rookie to complete the trade.
(**the guarantee dates for Payton, Gibson, Ellington and Bullock is Oct. 17, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The team option date for Portis is also Oct. 17. But those dates are likely to be pushed back closer to free agency.)
SIXERS: Philadelphia won’t have the cap room to absorb Paul’s contract, so they would need to send out $33 million to take back Paul’s 2020-21 salary. Tobias Harris ($34 million) or Al Horford ($28 million) are potential options. But Harris is under contract through 2024 and Horford is under contract through 2023. Would Oklahoma City want to take back long-term deals or would they prefer expiring contracts?
We can assume that salary filler, young players and/or draft consideration would be involved in a Paul-to-Philly deal.
But it seems as if the Sixers would have to include at least one of its players on a long-term contract to complete the deal.
“If it were me, I’d be looking at guys like Matisse Thybulle and picks,” Jacober says. "Maybe it’s Josh Richardson and Thybulle, but they’re going to an Oklahoma City team where you’d have a lot of redundancy.
Something else worth noting here: as ESPN reported, Paul and new Sixers coach Doc Rivers weren’t on great terms at the end of Paul’s tenure in Los Angeles. Rivers said at his introductory news conference that he and Paul put any ill feelings behind them.
Though unless the Sixers get a third team involved, they can’t send Oklahoma City any big expiring deals.
“If you look at the potential market, New York has the expiring deals that the Thunder would want,” one opposing executive said.
MILWAUKEE: The Bucks also won’t have the cap room to absorb Paul’s contract, so they would need to send out $33 million to take back Paul’s 2020-21 salary.
Eric Bledsoe would presumably be part of the trade. Most people are speculating that George Hill would be too (though I personally think they would want to hang onto him). Other options to get to the $33 million-plus they need to send out could be Ersan Illyosova (whose $7 million salary would need to be guaranteed), Robin Lopez (whose $5 million option would need to be exercised), DJ Wilson ($4.5 million), Donte DiVincenzo ($3 million), etc.
They won’t have cap room, so would need to trade match. They, too, would need to send out $33 million (or $30.7 million if officially executed this season) to take back Paul’s $41.4 million salary (or $38.5 million this season).
The headliner there would likely be Harris or Horford, assuming not Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. Some salary fillers, young players, and/or draft consideration would likely also be involved to fill out the trade. Josh Richardson ($11 million) could potentially also be included.
Bledsoe and Hill are both under contract in 2021-22, though Hill’s deal is partially guaranteed ($1.2 million is guaranteed).
The question for the Knicks, Sixers, Bucks and any other team interested in acquiring Paul is: how much longer can he produce the way he did last season? The 35-year-old averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists and 5 rebounds per game last year for an Oklahoma City team that exceeded expectations. Can he maintain that level of production over the next two seasons? History suggests his numbers will dip.
Jacober’s standard aging curve model notes that players from age 35 to age 36 see, on average, a 59 percent reduction in productivity.
The model is based on a small sample size because there aren’t many players still in the NBA at that age, but Jacober says that Paul, a future Hall of Famer, could be an outlier in this curve.
“Think of it a little bit like Tom Brady – we’re off the chart here,” he says.
For a team like the Knicks, the Paul acquisition would be about more than just statistics. Paul, the thinking goes, would help New York’s young players develop winning habits; his presence would also help a franchise that has all too often been caught up in negative storylines off the court.