With the NBA draft on Thursday and free agency officially starting at the end of the month, another offseason has arrived. And while questions like what Charlotte will do with the second overall pick and what Portland will do with the third pick and the future of All-Star guard Damian Lillard have dominated much of the discussion, as usual it’s the Lakers and Clippers who has a prominent place. in speculation.
The Times’ NBA beat writers Dan Woike, Broderick Turner and Andrew Greif discuss how point guard Chris Paul could fit into either team’s plans.
AG: Well, about 11 1/2 years after Chris Paul arrived in Los Angeles, the same conversation is back again: Paul could be available, so will the Lakers or Clippers get him? As soon as news broke earlier this month that the Suns could waive Paul, league insiders have pegged a return to Los Angeles as perhaps the most likely path for his final seasons in the NBA. At the same time, the timing of any move has been questioned by league sources, who don’t believe Washington is looking to make a decision immediately afterward.
This is not the same version of Paul that was coveted in 2011 to be a budding All-Star and franchise cornerstone. He’s 38 now, and his postseason impact in Phoenix was often marred by injuries. But he’s still one of the best offensive starters to ever play. The Clippers are interested in a reunion, team sources who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said. He has pre-existing and strong trust in Clippers coach Tyronn Lue from their overlapping seasons with the Clippers when Lue was Doc Rivers’ assistant. He is famously close to LeBron James. Dan and BT, is Paul at this stage of his career someone the Lakers are interested in?
BT: The Lakers would certainly have interest in acquiring Chris Paul, but only for the veteran minimum. If he were to take it from the Lakers, it would be a good deal for the Lakers and allow them to keep Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, possibly without hurting their salary cap too much. As a 38-year-old, the question becomes, how much does CP have left in the body? And would he be willing to be a backup if the Lakers re-signed D’Angelo Russell? CP has also dealt with injury issues the past few years, and the Lakers have enough to deal with involving Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
DW: I think BT hits on an interesting point – who would support who between Russell and Paul. From what I’ve been told, the idea would be for Chris Paul to be the point guard on the team and not THE point guard due to age and injury issues. Ideally, you’d find a player who can take the load off in the regular season to keep Paul healthy for the playoffs. But could it even work? I have my doubts. While Paul has done a wonderful job transitioning to an off-ball player later in his career, I would have questions about his ability to stay in rhythm if pushed even further from a team’s core structure. He is a demanding leader, and it is difficult to do that when you are on the fringes.
As BT said, I think the Lakers interest is almost entirely as a free agent, ideally for the minimum. Maybe they would creep into the mini-mid level exception if needed. With all that said, Paul should still have real value for a contender. He is a brilliant player who can orchestrate an attack to perfection. He is one hell of a competitor. You should ask questions before you blindly sign up, about fit, about relationships, about health, but at least those questions will become less and less serious.
AG: Given what you pointed out, Dan, I’m inclined to think that Paul would have more responsibility with the Clippers. To be clear, my understanding is that pursuing Paul would not preclude re-signing Russell Westbrook. Still, the Clippers’ interest in Paul dates back to their now yearlong search for the right point guard to pair with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Lue and George made no secret last season of their desire to add a “pure” point guard, a skill type that Paul still embodies. Lue has been demanding of his stars at times over the past three seasons, and Paul’s similarly demanding style could add another layer of accountability in the locker room.
DW: The Lakers have sent very strong signals that their preference is to return the team they assembled last season. led by re-signing Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. However, I think Thursday at the draft will provide a first look at whether or not that is true. I wouldn’t read too much into who they pick. I’m more curious if they use the pick, perhaps with Malik Beasley and/or Mo Bamba’s contracts, to add players to the roster. Of course, they could still use the one they took on draft night later this summer, but Thursday prior to free agency will be the first signal.
AG: It would be fascinating which team Paul would choose if the situation arose where he would be bought out in Washington and as a free agent could choose his next team. Both teams boast of being an immediate contender. If Paul were to become a free agent, the choice is his. Also a member of the Washington Wizards, the pick is Michael Winger, who left his job as the Clippers’ general manager just last month to lead Washington’s basketball operations. And what Winger knows as well as anyone is all the available assets the Clippers could offer, and that owner Steve Ballmer’s willingness to go deep into the luxury tax has given the team’s front office plenty of significant salary to use to match the salaries.
Paul was originally guaranteed around $15 million next season, but that is believed to have been increased to $25 million to facilitate the trade with Washington. The Clippers could make a trade work with that number in many ways. Signing Paul would add another guard to a roster that already has plenty, making the $20.9 million salary for guard Eric Gordon a likely target; that salary will be guaranteed June 28. To me, something to look at is how a transaction to fill the area of point guard need could also help with another priority, which is upgrading the team’s current power forward rotation of Marcus Morris, Robert Covington and Nicolas Batum. All are on contracts that expire after next season. In recent weeks, Morris (who will make $17.1 million next season) has expressed his displeasure in league circles with his abrupt role change at the end of last season and the team’s lack of communication with him about it. What is the appetite to keep Robert Covington, due $11.6 million next season, for another season? After all, he was used so infrequently that a teammate told me his lack of playing time was “the biggest mystery of the season.” I think the team would like to keep Batum.