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Report: Paul could decline player option, enter free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The 2021 NBA free agent pool isn't as star-studded as it once appeared it could be, but there remain some big fish circling the waters.
Kawhi Leonard, for one, has a $36 million player option for 2021-22 he may choose to decline. Chris Paul has a $44.2 million player option for that season to consider as well.
And coming off a stellar campaign for the Phoenix Suns, Paul intends to opt out of that final year in his contract to pursue a multi-year contract, possibly in the $100 million range over three years, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report reported Thursday.
Pincus went on to note that it's unclear if the shoulder injury Paul is currently battling through may change those plans, but his potential entry into the market remains fascinating to consider, especially from the Bulls' perspective. It's been widely reported that the Bulls will pursue an upgrade at the point guard position this offseason, and Paul would certainly represent one.
How feasible would a pursuit of Paul be? It's not out of the realm of possibility. The Bulls can free well north of $30 million in salary cap space — which is what Paul is reportedly seeking — if they massively shake up their roster by renouncing the Bird rights of all of their current free agents (that includes Lauri Markkanen, Daniel Theis and Garrett Temple), and waive Thad Young, Tomáš Satoranský and Al-Farouq Aminu, then stretch each of the latter three's remaining salaries — though if they retain their first-round pick that cap space projection would wilt a bit.
Following that path to its conclusion (without their first-rounder) would leave the Bulls with Paul, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vučević, Patrick Williams, Coby White and Troy Brown Jr. on the roster for next season, plus a second-round pick, a sliver of cap space, the room exception (projected to be around $5.3 million) and potentially Marko Simonović as the remaining avenues to improve the roster (barring trades).
Is that team more equipped to compete than the one that missed the play-in in 2020-21? Absolutely. Especially considering the outsized impact Paul had on the Suns vaulting from a fringe playoff contender to the No. 2 seed in the West (or the Billy Donovan-coached Oklahoma City Thunder one year earlier), and the specific struggles the Bulls had with turnovers, defending at the point of attack and performing in late-game situations last season.
But there is also considerable risk involved. Paul turned 36 in May — meaning a three-year, roughly $100 million contract would expire, and pay out more than $30 million, at age 39 — and has shown signs of wearing down in the 2021 playoffs. Making all those moves to free up the space to bring him aboard would also severely limit the Bulls' future flexibility, especially as they're already indebted two future first-round picks to the Orlando Magic and will have to deal with extensions for LaVine and Vučević in the near future — not to mention the expiration of White's rookie-scale deal.
And, for what it's worth, Paul may still pick up the option. Or re-up with the Suns, who know firsthand the value he brings. Or sign elsewhere if he sees another team as more equipped to contend now than the unproven Bulls.
Regardless, it adds an interesting wrinkle to the upcoming offseason, and something to watch as the postseason marches forward.
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