Chris Paul has been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. In addition, Thunder general manager Sam Presti sent two first-round draft picks to Houston, as well as a swapped pick for the 2021 and 2025 drafts.
The Rockets jettisoned Paul’s 4-year, $159.7 million contract for Westbrook’s similarly exorbitant one. The 34-year-old is expected to make $38.5 million next season, and won’t be an unrestricted free agent until 2022, according to Spotrac. This includes a 2021 player option.
As Brian Giuffra of The Big Lead explains, Paul’s deal with the Rockets needed to be unloaded to create cap space and room to operate for future transactions.
While this trade looks really lopsided for the Thunder (it is), the Rockets had to make it because of Paul’s contract and how bad it is. The oft-injured 34-year-old has three more years on his $159-million contract, which includes a player option for $44 million in the final year. You can bet Paul will be cashing that check when he’s 36. So the Rockets had to pay to get rid of that with two first rounders. Plus they got the better player.
The Thunder look to be in an obvious rebuild, which means Paul could be on the move again. Let’s look at why, as well as potential landing spots.
Paul’s Fat Contract & Potential Landing Spots After OKC
Paul’s nearly $40 million salary is not the type of contract you want on a rebuilding roster such as the Thunder. You would rather have that money to use on draft picks, developing talent and a younger star in free agency (such as Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021). When looking at the Thunder payroll, it seems clear that they want Paul as a bargaining chip for trades in the very near future.
According to Spotrac, Oklahoma City already has two point guards in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder. Combined, the two are worth under $20 million a season, just about half of what Paul requires in his deal.
This had led to some initial rumors pointing Paul to play for teams such as Detroit next season. Our own Jeff Smith brought up the possibility earlier on Thursday.
The Detroit Pistons have been a team linked to various point guards throughout the offseason, but nothing has come to fruition, although they were able to sign Derrick Rose. While the duo of Reggie Jackson and Rose is intriguing, Paul could be a nice added veteran presence. I do think Rose is more than deserving of decent minutes, but considering the Pistons have Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, the addition of Paul would be a strong one.
Smith also mentioned Minnesota, Washington and Orlando as potential options for Paul. Detroit is probably looking for an upgrade on Jackson, who is currently worth over $18 million a season. Oklahoma City would only have to deal with Jackson’s contract for a single season, while having to spend less than half than they would with Paul.
In terms of scoring, Jackson and Paul are nearly identical at over 15 points a contest. However, Paul’s 8.2 assists per game fit much better with former Clippers teammate Blake Griffin. Jackson is a notoriously uncreative facilitator.
Basically, Detroit and Oklahoma City make the most sense as bedfellows here. The former needs an upgrade to compete with the rising Eastern Conference (Milwaukee, Brooklyn, etc.), while the latter needs to slash contacts to create operating space for the summer of 2020.
Miami is another option, as it was part of the originial trade talks between the Rockets and Thunder.