OK, it is the beginning of the worst of all options for the Phoenix Suns. But it is not the actual worst of all options, not yet at least.
On the eve of the start of NBA free agency, it looks as though star point guard Chris Paul will be opting out of the final year of his contract, leaving a hefty $44.2 million on the table as he goes into unrestricted free agency. Paul will thus be free to sign as an unrestricted free agent with any team.
This is according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania:
But considering he is coming off a year in which he led the Suns to the NBA Finals and averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds, it’s highly unlikely that Paul, who is 36, will sign with just anyone. He is almost certain to stay with the Suns on a new contract that runs three years and as much as $144 million.
The Suns won’t go that high, given Paul’s age, and won’t have to. The market figures to set Paul’s value at around $30 million per year, making a three-year, $100 million contract reasonable. Phoenix has considerable leverage here because, as the owner of his Bird Rights, the Suns can spend more to keep Paul. No one else can.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there are signs that things will be worked out between Paul and the Suns quickly.
Knicks Still on the Chris Paul List
The Knicks, with more than $50 million on hand, are the only team that could and would realistically challenge the Suns with an outright offer for Paul, but that is a longshot.
New York is seeking to add multiple players while protecting cap space for next year’s free-agent market. The Knicks were thought to be all-in on a pursuit of Paul, but the success of the Suns this year tempered that notion.
The Lakers were thought to be a threat to the Suns on Paul, too, but the team’s big move for Russell Westbrook last week ended that pursuit
Despite all that, there is some trepidation, as we have discussed, in how owner Robert Sarver will handle the next 24 hours for Paul. In his 17 years as team owner, Sarver has developed a reputation for bizarre, hands-on requests and most important, cheapness. It’s been reported that he asked past GMs Bryan Colangelo and Steve Kerr to take pay cuts in the past, for example.
But Paul is different, and this situation is different. Sarver has toned down his hands-on approach over the year and, certainly, coming into a summer in which his team just reached the Finals will be incentive to spend.
That seemed to be the message from GM James Jones after last week’s NBA draft, who could not really address the situation directly because Paul had not pulled the trigger on his option.
“We’ll know what his decision is at that point in time,” Jones said. “But I think what we have is enticing, I think he likes being here, we like having him here. So I’m confident that we’ll be able to have a conversation, hopefully, in the coming days that will make everyone happy.”
Suns Almost Certain to be Tax Payers
Still, a deal for Paul will set up a very expensive future for the Suns, one that likely will see the team thrust into luxury-tax territory. Center Deandre Ayton is likely to command a new contract, too, and if he gets the expected max deal, Phoenix will be over the tax threshold. Devin Booker is already on a max deal. Mikal Bridges will not come cheap, either.
Ayton is signed for next season, but if a massive extension starting at $30 million or so were to kick in for 2022-23—with Paul making in excess of $40 million and Devin Booker at $34 million—the Suns would be paying three players around $115 million, almost guaranteeing the team will hit the luxury tax threshold.
Sarver, it should be noted, has been willing to pay the tax in the past, ponying up in 2008-10 for teams that many considered to be contenders. Those teams did not play in the Finals, but Sarver showed he would spend when needed.