Before the Coronavirus outbreak, it was expected that Chris Paul would be dealt with in the summer.
There had been a burgeoning market for Chris Paul; the Knicks were known to be one of the interested parties. Paul’s renaissance in Oklahoma City had drawn interest across the league, a lot of teams liked the idea of adding the ‘Point God’ to their roster.
The Knicks wanted to acquire Paul for his leadership. Chris Paul has shown leadership for the Thunder this year. He has been influential in the development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley.
The trade market for Paul has evaporated due to the Coronavirus. The stoppage of play has severely impacted the league’s finances.
Teams have been loss-making entities over the last two months; there have been no gate receipts due to fans being banned from arenas. Money made from broadcasts has stopped due to no games being played. Revenue will be lower before the season restarts back up.
Before the start of the season, the NBA projected a salary cap of $115 million. The actual cap figure will be significantly lower due to COVID and the issues with China before the start of the season. The lack of cap space will mean that every dollar is precious.
There may be teams that were previously interested in Paul, who does not want to commit $40 million per year for a contract that could become onerous very quickly. It is a huge salary that can cripple a team’s flexibility in terms of making moves to add pieces to the roster.
The financial issues caused by the Coronavirus will likely continue for the next few years. There will probably be zero fans allowed at basketball games next season. This will eat into the league’s revenue stream and cause further financial constraints.
Teams will have to get creative to acquire talent and manage the cap. I cannot see an organization choosing to receive an older, overpaid player who could become a drag on the salary cap for the next few seasons. That choice would not make any sense financially.
Oklahoma City had expected to receive assets for Paul this summer, future pieces that would aid the Thunder core in the coming years. Oklahoma City may have to attach assets to sweeten the deal if the Thunder are desperate to get Paul’s salary off the books.
General Manager Sam Presti has previously stated his reluctance to deal away picks that could have value in the future to move a contract. Presti knows the importance of late first-round picks that have been tossed away carelessly. A new first-round pick is how the Thunder were able to acquire Serge Ibaka.
Oklahoma City received that pick from Phoenix in a deal that involved the Suns dumping Kurt Thomas’ contract onto the Thunder’s books. A late first-round pick might not become anything special, but the Thunder’s front office will be confident of finding gems in the Draft.
This is where the question lies for the Thunder regarding the future of Chris Paul. Does Oklahoma City deal Paul and assets away to start the rebuild in earnest? It is not an easy issue to solve, and Presti’s decision will have ramifications either way.
Presti could choose to deal with Paul and sacrifice the assets. It will be the most comfortable option for Sam to carry out, there will be teams in the market who want to acquire assets in exchange for stomaching a considerable contract.
This decision will be contrary to Presti’s belief, and it will eat into the Thunder’s treasure chest. The picks dealt will only make a small dent in the total haul, but each pick has an intrinsic value that must be respected.
The other choice for the Thunder front office is to take Paul off the market. Chris Paul would remain a member of the Thunder organization until Presti receives a suitable offer. This decision works for the Thunder; Paul is a talented player, and his value should be met in the event of a trade.
Paul will hit free agency in 2022, and teams may be more inclined to trade for him in the final year of Paul’s deal. The acquiring team will not have a long-term financial obligation regarding Paul, and making a move is relatively simple. Oklahoma City may get better offers for Paul in 2021 when his contract is running down.
The decision to retain Paul should not be taken lightly. It will affect every aspect of the Thunder organization. Paul may be unhappy if he has to spend another year on a team that is not contending for a championship.
Paul has accepted this year as a one-off, an opportunity to rebuild his reputation and prove that he is an elite player in the league. He will likely view a second year with the Thunder differently, the novelty will wear off.
This could disrupt team dynamics and cause locker-room instability. As Oklahoma City head towards a rebuilding phase, it becomes essential to have a stable environment for the young core of growing.
Moreover, holding onto Paul will result in the public perception of the Thunder becoming more negative. Since the Harden trade in 2012, Oklahoma City has worked hard to cultivate a positive image of the franchise. The Thunder is viewed as a professional, well-run team that does not deal with deception.
The Thunder front office work discreetly and honestly. Choosing to retain Paul will lead the media and other players to claim that it is wrong for a player of Paul’s caliber to remain on a team that has no chance of winning a championship.
In an era of player empowerment, Oklahoma City wants to present itself to be a player-friendly environment. Choosing to retain Paul and not allowing Chris to find a better situation will impact that reputation. Presti needs to decide whether this is a hill he wants to die on.
There are no easy answers for Sam Presti regarding Chris Paul’s future with the franchise. Presti needs to decide whether pragmatism or his principles are more important in this situation.
I do not believe that it is a wise idea for the Thunder to hold onto Paul going into the 2020-21 Season. This season feels like a natural conclusion for Paul’s time with the Thunder. There was an implicit understanding that this would be a one year deal. Paul remaining for another year will disrupt the plans of the Thunder.