It was always going to be a gamble for the Thunder to take on the albatross contract of Chris Paul in the deal the team made to move franchise icon Russell Westbrook to the Rockets this summer. It appears that it will be a losing gamble, at least for this year.
As we head into the heart of NBA trade season, Paul looks to be stuck in Oklahoma City, a place that neither he nor the Thunder brass had hoped he’d be for the length of the season. Paul is in the second of a four-year contract he signed in 2018. He is making $38.5 million this year and is slated to make $41.3 million next year and $44.2 million in 2021-22.
The Thunder agreed to take on Paul from Houston because the Rockets gave up three first-round picks (in 2021, 2024 and 2026, with a right to swap in 2025) to bolster the OKC rebuild. There was also the hope that the Thunder could find a team desperate enough this season to trade for Paul and could bring in another asset or two by flipping CP3.
The way this season has progressed has not done much to help out that end, though. One team that had expressed interest in Paul was the Heat, but Miami wanted assets as part of any deal. So the Thunder wanted something in return for giving up Paul and the Heat wanted something in return for taking on Paul.
That’s not a great basis on which to start a negotiation. The Paul-to-Miami talks have not yet gotten much farther than that, sources told Heavy.com. With the Heat at a very surprising 19-7, No. 2 in the East, Miami is not exactly desperate to make a major change involving the $124 million they’d have to pay Paul.
There haven’t been many other nibbles on Paul around the league. Detroit is said to be pondering a splashy move, but Paul is likely too much of a risk. Minnesota is hoping for a point guard and the notion of trading Andrew Wiggins in a deal for Paul at once point made sense, but not since Wiggins started the season and actually began looking like a competent No. 2 scoring option.
As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on his podcast this weekend, “there’s no belief that there’s going to be a CP3 trade for” the Thunder.
What’s Next for Chris Paul and the Thunder?
Most likely, then, Paul will play out this season for the Thunder and that might not be a bad thing for all sides. Oklahoma City is 11-14 on the year, which is good enough to have them in contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
If anything, the record reflects some bum luck. They’ve played seven games that were decided by three points or fewer, second-most in the West. They’re 2-5 in those games. The Thunder have had narrow losses against some of the best teams in the league—at Utah (five points), at Houston (four points), Milwaukee (two), at the Clippers (two) and home-and-home against the Lakers (five and three points). OKC hs a net rating of 0.2.
Paul’s value has been clear. He’s averaged 15.6 points and 6.3 assists, a steady leader alongside second-year, future-of-the-franchise point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That pairing has been vital to the Thunder’s early playoff positioning.
All this does not mean Oklahoma City won’t be open to other deals. Danilo Gallinari, in the final year of his contract, is expected to be shopped between now and the trade deadline and should draw a first-round pick. It would require a significant package, but center Steven Adams is still a possible trade candidate, too. And the team has another point guard, Dennis Schroder, drawing trade interest, too.
After this year, with only two seasons remaining on Paul’s deal, the task of trading him should get a bit easier for the Thunder. “It’s an easier contract to swallow when it only has one year left on it,” one league executive said. “They’d do a deal now but mostly they’re laying the groundwork to do something in the summer, there’s a light free-agent market.”
He has played well, but Paul is 34 and has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons. He just can’t deliver enough value on that contract to make a deal for him worthwhile.