The Rockets and Thunder detonated one final bomb over the NBA on July 11, dealing Russell Westbrook to Houston in exchange for Chris Paul and a pair of first-round draft picks. The seismic deal shifted the balance of power out West and created the league’s newest dynamic duo. We’ve certainly never seen an NBA summer like this one. We may never see such chaos again. But don’t assume the game of musical chairs is over. Chris Paul remains a commodity available on the market, and there are additional impact pieces who could be acquired for the right price.
So which headline players could still be dealt either before opening night or prior to the February 2020 trade deadline? We at The Crossover identified a few key candidates as well as their potential landing spots.
Chris Paul, Thunder
We shouldn’t discount the possibility of CP3 remaining in Oklahoma City, at least through 2019-20. The Thunder can still duck the luxury tax and retain Paul by shipping some combination of Dennis Scroder, Andre Roberson and Patrick Patterson. Danilo Gallinari can also be dealt after December 15. Paul could lead an intriguing crew that guns for the No. 8 seed, saving basketball in Oklahoma City once again. Paul never reached the postseason in his two years with Oklahoma City as the Hornets displaced from New Orleans. A playoff appearance alongside Steven Adams and the remaining pieces would be a true accomplishment.
The decision on a deal may ultimately be up to Paul. Perhaps a Miami trade never emerges and the remaining options are bleak. Oklahoma City can be a cushy landing spot with lower expectations than Houston, and the Thunder fans are among the most supportive in the league. It’s been a while since Paul’s felt the love. Sam Presti granted Paul George and Russell Westbrook their wish in exchange for a war chest of draft picks. If he can’t acquire an asset for Paul, he should be content to sit on his treasure.
Westbrook’s trade value was questioned by many, with some suggesting Oklahoma City would have to attach an asset to move the former MVP. But the Thunder ended up with four years of draft control from the Rockets (two first-round picks, two first-round swaps) in exchange for Westbrook, and they can likely fetch something of value for Paul. A full rebuild is in Oklahoma City’s best interest, and keeping Paul as a half measure could very well end with a disappointing No. 9 or No. 10 seed in the loaded West. Even given his recent decline, Paul remains a valuable player with one fewer year on his contract than Westbrook or John Wall. A suitor should emerge by the end of the summer.
Miami is the most obvious choice to acquire the All-Star point guard. They engaged Oklahoma City in negotiations for Westbrook, but deemed the asking price too high. Presti’s price for Paul is likely lower, even with the shorter contract. Westbrook is the superior player and an All-NBA talent. Paul is now clearly a second option. The Heat should be able to retain Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo in a CP3 deal, both of whom were a likely non-starter in trade talks for Westbrook. Presti may be able to wrangle another pick from Miami for Paul, or at worst salary relief. In a weak market, Miami is a sensible destination.
Will any other team enter the discussions? Finding a match is difficult. Minnesota is intriguing as a partner for Karl-Anthony Towns, but the pair doesn’t make much sense upon further examination. The two players remain on far different timelines, and new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas seems poised to land a higher-ceiling running mate in the coming seasons. A potential D’Angelo Russell trade remains in play after December 15. The point guard market is fluid year-to-year. Why saddle Towns with an aging point guard, even if he is a temporary upgrade? Orlando’s youth also likely removes them from consideration, and a convoluted John Wall swap makes little sense for both Oklahoma City and Washington. It could be Miami or bust for a Paul trade before the 2020 trade deadline.
Kevin Love, Cavaliers
Dan Gilbert was quick to lock down Kevin Love after LeBron James’ move to Los Angeles in July 2018. The Cavs’ owner handed Love a four-year, $120 million extension rather than let the forward play out the final year of his contract, signaling a commitment to the new face of the franchise. Cleveland’s roster was (and is) in shambles after James left. Signing Love long-term bought the Cavs a modicum of goodwill and 19 wins. Not exactly a great return for a nine-figure contract.
Despite the questionable deal, Love’s skillset keeps him an intriguing trade candidate to watch as February approaches. A strong first half from Love could boost his value after an injury-plagued 2018-19, reminding teams how effective he can be as a complementary offensive force for a winning team. Love shot 41.5% from three on 2.3 made triples per game in 2017-18, canning 45% of threes in the previous postseason. His displacement to the corner mirrored Chris Bosh’s final years in Miami, at times obscuring his effectiveness as a post player. Love can still carry an offense in spurts, and he would be a valuable third piece for a contender.
Portland could be an appealing destination if it can muster up the assets as the Cavs play hardball. The Blazers have one of the many high-profile duos out West, and while Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can muster some playoff magic, there appears to be a firm ceiling. A return to the Western Conference finals is unlikely given the current roster construction. Love can be a valuable outlet for Portland’s backcourt, providing some much-needed perimeter punch. Defenses sagged off Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless and Zach Collins last season with little retribution. Love would make them pay. Collins or rookie Nassir Little could intrigue the Cavs brass, and if Portland can stomach the salary, it may be a winning landing spot for Love.
Bradley Beal, Wizards
We won’t dwell on a potential Beal deal as owner Ted Leonsis and the Wizards brass insist Beal isn’t for sale. The rumors could finally end on July 26 if Beal signs a three-year, $111 million extension with Washington, crowning the new face of the franchise as John Wall’s future remains uncertain. The Wizards would be smart to hitch their wagon to Beal, who is just 26. But Beal could potentially force his way out of town, and he’d be better for it.
Beal declining his extension would send whispers through the league regarding his potential availability. The Florida product is slated to enter free agency in the summer of 2021, joining a loaded class as plenty of teams clear cap space. Like Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, Beal could declare himself done with The District, guaranteed to leave in two seasons. Leonsis and Co. may be inclined to shed salary and avoid an awkward divorce if Beal forces their hand. Otherwise, expect the shooting guard to remain in the DMV and wait for Wall’s return.