Point guard Chris Paul does not much want to play for the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team looking to swing into rebuilding mode. The Thunder don’t much want to pay Paul to play for them, not with the three years and $124 million still bulging on his contract.
The Heat have calculated that by waiting through the summer and into training camp—probably into the season—that reality will spur both Paul and Oklahoma City to make some concessions that would allow Paul to come to Miami on favorable terms. According to Shams Charania, the Heat still have interest in Paul.
League sources tell Heavy.com that Miami is still in the driver’s seat here and that the Thunder and Paul are on the clock to make a deal to Miami palatable enough for the Heat to swallow. The Heat are said to be “more than comfortable” opening the season with Goran Dragic, now healthy after a knee injury, as the starting point guard.
The Heat, after bringing in Jimmy Butler this summer, are also banking on a healthy Dion Waiters and the potential of rookie Tyler Herro (a player in whom the Thunder have interest) to provide depth). They’ll be able to gauge both as camp proceeds.
Getting a deal done, then, will rely on how far the Thunder and Paul are willing to go.
Draft Picks Remain Central in Any Chris Paul Deal
The first issue is draft picks. Miami is woefully short on picks going forward, with only two first-rounders and one second-rounder in the next four drafts. Yes, out of eight picks available over four years, Miami already has traded away five of them.
In a deal involving Paul, the Heat would want the Thunder to send back at least one first-rounder and possibly multiple second-rounders. After dealing away Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have as many as 15 first-rounders in the next seven years. The Heat would need at least one of those to make a deal work.
Two of the picks in the Thunder’s stable involve the Heat. In 2021, Oklahoma City gets to see the draft order for themselves, the Heat and the Rockets and will be able to take the top two picks of that group. Houston gets the third. In 2023, the Heat owes the Thunder their pick, with lottery protection.
To make a Paul deal possible, the Thunder would likely have to give Miami one of its own picks back, either the 21 or the 23 pick. But if things go badly for the Heat, those picks will shoot up in value. Oklahoma City does have a pick coming from Denver in 2020 and the Clippers in 2022. Those figure to be lower than Miami’s picks and perhaps the Thunder would eventually be willing to include one of those.
But for the last two months, the Thunder have not been willing to give up picks at all to get rid of Paul. That will need to change.
Will Chris Paul Sacrifice Salary?
The second factor is Paul’s salary. The Heat would have to absorb the league’s biggest annual contract and while Paul still is a talented point guard and would bolster the Heat’s hopes of competing in the East this year, he is slated to make $38.5 million this season and $41.3 million next.
Miami could swallow that, but the sticking point is the third year of Paul’s contract, in 2021-22. It’s slated to pay him $44 million at age 37, an absurd amount for a player who will be wrapping up his career. The Heat also had planned to keep cap space available for the summer of 2021 and bringing in Paul would torpedo their free-agent positioning.
That’s where Paul and his agent, Rich Paul, could grease the wheels. Paul has an option on the final year of the deal and could agree to opt out when the time comes. That would give Miami its freedom in 2021 and allow the Heat to re-sign Paul at a lower number later that summer.
But the NBA does not allow that kind of agreement to be formalized and both Paul and the Heat would be risking that the other side would go through with their wink-wink arrangement. That’s a gamble, especially if Paul were to suffer a serious injury and especially with $44 million at stake.
Training camp is nearing, though, and all sides’ bluffs are being called. Miami would like to have Paul in the backcourt with Butler. The Thunder would like to move Paul along, especially as they begin their rebuilding process. Paul would like to be elsewhere and is fond of Miami.
It’s likely up to the Thunder and Paul to decide whether they want to bend to make a deal happen.