September 21, 2023

The Suns decision on Chris Paul could have major ramifications for the free agent market

The point guard market will feature the most consistent dominoes of this NBA offseason, and that was before Chris Paul’s Phoenix future took center stage this week, adding another big name to the board. The Suns met with Paul and his representation on Wednesday, according to multiple reports, and discussed the likelihood that Phoenix could waive the future Hall of Fame point guard before his $30.8 million salary is guaranteed on June 28 — putting the franchise remains on the hook for just $15.8 million of Paul’s 2023-24 revenue.

In that scenario, an ideal Suns outcome would be to keep Paul on a new contract at the veteran’s minimum, with the option of adding another rotational piece through the $5 million taxable mid-level exception. If Phoenix waived and stretched Paul’s remaining salary, it would significantly reduce the Suns’ annual operating costs and allow Phoenix access to the full mid-level exception – but also disqualify the team from re-signing Paul to another contract.

A formal communication of these scenarios is certainly a new development, but this predicament for Phoenix and its floor general has been looming ever since Paul signed his four-year, $120 million deal in 2021. for the 2024-2025 season is not guaranteed — which always positioned the Suns to save $45 million from that four-year total should Paul, now 38, drop in production or show continued injury issues. And with this year’s warranty date fast approaching, the Phoenix front office was already exploring backcourt expansions ahead of the trade deadline, league sources told Yahoo Sports, paying particular attention to point guards Paul had during this postseason. redeem or replace him in the future. .

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul watches from the bench during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA Western Conference basketball semifinal series against the Denver Nuggets, Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Phoenix.  The Nuggets knocked out the sun in their 125-100 victory.  (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Suns still have a lot to figure out when it comes to Chris Paul’s future. (AP Photo/Matt York)

While Terry Rozier has been rumored to be a Suns target, seemingly since Phoenix expressed interest in the combo guard when he achieved free agency in 2019, the Suns’ front office led by president and general manager James Jones has not pursued Rozier recently. from Charlotte, sources said. Phoenix has high regard for Knicks Sixth Man of the Year finalist Immanuel Quickley, sources told Yahoo Sports, dating back to when Quickley entered the 2020 NBA Draft. Payton Pritchard, the former first-round pick dropped from Boston’s rotation, has several supporters in Phoenix’s front office, sources said, and is expected to feature prominently in the NBA’s overall trade landscape this summer, when Pritchard eligible for renewal. Kings guard Davion Mitchell is another rookie-scale player who has been on the Suns’ radar. Phoenix also oversaw table setter Monte Morris of Washington and Gabe Vincent of Miami, according to league sources.

However, most of those names made more sense as in-season upgrades than reserve guard Cam Payne. Still, the Suns won’t have a long list of premium options to replace Paul. Vincent’s strong post-season performance for Miami, averaging 13.6 points on 40.2% shooting from distance this playoffs and in the NBA Finals, has many league personnel projected that Vincent could lead well above full mid-level. At that salary, the Lakers would easily match a Suns offer sheet for Austin Reaves. Fred VanVleet, who can achieve unrestricted free agency by turning down a 2023-24 player option, appears unattainable for Phoenix outside of a sign-and-trade scenario that could only come after Paul’s warranty date. But the Suns only have tradable pick swaps after February’s mega deal to land Kevin Durant, and most teams would expect some form of compensation for taking back Paul’s $30.8 million cap. Rival executives are also gearing up for VanVleet to make several offers from would-be cap room suitors like Orlando and Houston, who could price Phoenix out altogether. Ditto for the numbers on any extension to Toronto.

We’ll be hearing about more glamorous sign-and-trade opportunities for Phoenix. Any team with championship aspirations and All-NBA talents like Durant and Devin Booker start shopping at the edge of the market and then work their way down. Portland has valued Suns center Deandre Ayton in the past, sources told Yahoo Sports, but Phoenix is ​​underfunded to bring Damian Lillard from Portland should the Blazers’ franchise player eventually decide to play elsewhere this summer. Lillard made notable waves this week when he told Showtime that he considers Brooklyn and Miami viable destinations in case he ever files for a trade. Rival front offices certainly hope Lillard plays the card he never had if Portland can’t find suitable upgrades to the Blazers roster by dangling the No. 3 pick in this month’s draft. Though both franchise and superstar seem to be prioritizing building a true playoff contender around Lillard, with ongoing plans to re-sign Jerami Grant as well, sources said.

And then there’s the idea of ​​Phoenix swapping Paul for James Harden, which has been quietly circulating among a number of league employees since the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. A reunion between Harden and Durant makes for great fodder, and the bearded point guard could potentially pick up his 2023-24 player option provided Philadelphia trades him to the Suns. You may recall that Paul pulled off just that maneuver to join Harden in Houston in 2017. However, Harden is poised to gain quite a bit more financially by either staying with the 76ers or returning to the Rockets and their $60-plus million in pending cap space.

If there’s one dreamy framework that could become a reality, let’s not forget Phoenix’s strong overtures to acquire Kyrie Irving – another key guard this offseason – before Brooklyn shared the dazzling ball-handler to Dallas. The Suns dropped their pursuit of Irving and refocused on landing a bigger prize in Durant, but Phoenix officials have not relinquished the interest they had in Irving four months ago. That would require some cooperation from the Mavericks, who have so far shown little willingness to nurture a possible sign-and-trade for Irving with the Lakers, sources said. Dallas, of course, hopes to keep Irving after he mortgages two key rotation pieces plus a 2029 first-round pick to acquire him. But if Irving called his shot out of town, perhaps the Mavericks would be more willing to work with a return that brought in Paul as opposed to Los Angeles point guard D’Angelo Russell.

Would Phoenix take Russell for Paul? The Suns were in talks with the Timberwolves about Russell ahead of the trade deadline, sources told Yahoo Sports, before Minnesota found him a new home with the Lakers. Phoenix also coveted Wolves center Naz Reid in trade talks, sources said.

Russell is known to be good friends with Booker. In addition, the Lakers would exp
lore similar sign-and-trade opportunities with Russell. For Los Angeles and Phoenix, losing Russell by free agency or forgoing Paul would sacrifice a $30 million paycheck that feels all the more precious as they stare at a daunting new second tax apron in the league’s forthcoming collective bargaining agreement. You don’t make these decisions on a whim, so Phoenix and Paul have started discussing different alternatives about three weeks before free service begins.

Paul also has a lot of power in this. If a transaction doesn’t materialize, and Phoenix won’t be able to boast a whole lot of initial clout on the phone with another front office, then foregoing Paul could be as good as saying goodbye to Paul. Several player agents contacted by Yahoo Sports indicated that Paul could still get parts of, if not all of, the mid-level of several teams on the open market. And if Paul’s only option for returning to Phoenix is ​​the veteran minimum, what’s stopping the savvy veteran of them all from taking the same salary from a team like the Lakers? He has family ties in Los Angeles, not to mention a long-standing friendship with LeBron James. Every reunion for Paul with the Clippers seems to have at least one roadblock. There is no indication of anything other than mutual interest between Russell Westbrook and Steve Ballmer’s franchise to bring back the team’s major buyout starting this spring. Los Angeles is already facing its own tricky cap gym if they want to find Westbrook more than his entire non-Bird salary of about $3.8 million.

There will be changes in Phoenix whether Paul stays or goes. Several assistant coaches, such as Mark Bryant, are expected to follow Monty Williams to Detroit, where former Houston head coach Stephen Silas will serve as the Pistons’ associate head coach, and former 76ers assistant Dan Burke, sources said, are expected to also join the front of Williams’ bench. It remains to be seen if Williams will succeed in getting Jarrett Jack off the Suns. Another close friend of Paul’s, Jack sat behind the bench at Phoenix during the 22-23 season and was known as an integral coaching figure among Suns players.

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