The offseason is upon us after a dizzying run for the Phoenix Suns one which, ultimately, ended in a disappointing six-game NBA Finals loss to the Bucks. Now comes the sobering reality that was always bound to follow up this dream season with Chris Paul at the helm: This summer, Paul has the option to hit free agency and if he does, the Suns will have to pay up to keep him.
That means team owner Robert Sarver will have to do the right thing, open his checkbook and keep Paul in place. While Sarver has done well to stay out of the spotlight recently, history shows that if the fate of the team comes down to how he handles the Paul situation, there is reason to be nervous.
On Sunday, NBA insider extraordinaire Adrian Wojnarowski boiled it down on a special NBA Countdown show.
“This is a test for Robert Sarver,” Woj said. “It is not inconceivable that Chris Paul opts out and enters the free-agent market.”
Paul has until August 1 to decide whether he will opt out of the final year of his contract, scheduled to pay him a whopping $44 million. Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus reported earlier that Paul, “intends to decline” that option.
Knicks Expected to Pursue Chris Paul in Free Agency
That would send Paul into unrestricted free agency, making him eligible to sign anywhere. The Knicks have been the team most often connected to Paul, with ample cap space and the bright lights of Broadway to offer. The Knicks are also in a rare position—they not only have cap room, but they’re a good team, having gone 41-31 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
But because of a wrinkle in the collective bargaining agreement known as the “over 38 rule,” the Knicks would be at a disadvantage as far as what they can pay Paul. They could over only three years and $123 million, where the Suns can go as high as $144 million over three years.
That is a lot for a 36-year-old, but for a team coming off a run to the Finals, there is plenty of incentive for Phoenix to overpay if it must do so. The fact that other teams, like New York, have cap space gives Paul leverage in the situation and will cause his cost to balloon.
How Will Robert Sarver Play This?
That’s where Suns fans should be a bit nervous. 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 giving Paul a major deal will set up a very expensive future for the Suns, one that likely will see the team thrust into luxury-tax territory. In addition to paying Paul, center Deandre Ayton is up for a contract extension, and should command something in the range of a max deal.
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, for all his reputation for cheapness, 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 though—and this one did. So, while this might be a test for Sarver, and while Suns fans might be nervous, there is reason to be hopeful that Paul will be back.