After another disappointing season knocked the Los Angeles Clippers out early in the playoffs, star point guard Chris Paul needs to make a decision.
Paul is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract to test free agency. There, he could either re-sign with the Clippers for a lucrative five-year, $205 million deal or sign for no more than four years at $152 million with another team.
That’s $53 million and an extra year of employment Paul would leave on the table if he headed elsewhere. The normal human being would find the dotted line and sign it in blood in a heartbeat, especially one that negotiated a salary bump for players in his age bracket as National Basketball Players Association president.
But CP3 may crave more than just cash and security. He wants a championship more than anything. And if it’s not coming in Los Angeles, ESPN’s Marc Stein says the San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at Paul, noting the Clippers see San Antonio’s interest as “a legitimate concern” even though they currently lack the cap space to sign him outright.
How would it work?
Option A would include a sign-and-trade in which the Clippers ink Paul to a four-year max deal, then send him to San Antonio for matching salaries and attractive younger pieces. That could include an extend-and-trade for Jonathon Simmons along with a package of Danny Green or Pau Gasol and draft picks.
But that option would limit Paul to just a four-year deal and also hard cap the Spurs at $6 million above the luxury tax line.
Otherwise, for San Antonio to sign Paul in free agency, the road is bumpy.
To do so, they’d need to clear space for his $35.7 million salary next season (or convince him to leave even more money on the table :emoji crying face:). Tony Parker, who suffered a season-ending ruptured quadriceps tendon in Game 2 vs. Houston, is still scheduled to collect $15.4 million next year.
Parker’s retirement would be the first domino necessary to fall in order to create the requisite cap space for Paul’s contract. It’s still unclear which way he and veteran running mate Manu Ginobili are leaning this summer. But why would Parker retire when he has guaranteed money coming his way?
Assuming Parker doesn’t retire, the Spurs would still be on the hook to fulfill the final year of his contract. San Antonio could waive and stretch his contract over three seasons and pay $5.13 million a year, but that’s a cold way to treat a club legend.
Let’s say they do it anyway.
Here’s how the rest of the salaries break down:
- LaMarcus Aldridge - $21,461,010
- Kawhi Leonard - $18,868,625
- Pau Gasol (player option) - $16,197,500
- Danny Green - $10,000,000
- Dewayne Dedmon (player option) - $3,028,410
- Tim Duncan (stretched) - $1,881,250
- David Lee (player option) - $2,328,652
- Kyle Anderson - $2,151,704
- Livio Jean-Charles (waived) - $1,035,200
- Davis Bertans - $1,312,611
- Tony Parker: $5,113,111
- Total: 83,378,073
- Projected Salary Cap: $102 million
That total doesn’t include the near $29.5 million in cap holds on pending free agents Ginobili, Patty Mills and Simmons, each of whom are as good as gone if Paul goes to San Antonio. The Spurs would need to renounce each of those players to even think about signing Paul.
Now, if San Antonio renounces Ginobili, Mills, and Simmons, and Dedmon declines his player option, they’d still need to clear $14 million in cap space. The easy way would be to convince Gasol to opt out of his player option, but that’s probably not gonna fly.
The next best option, to the dismay of many, would involve trading Green to a team with cap space to absorb his contract without giving up actual salary in return. Teams projected to have at least $15 million in cap space after re-signing their own free agents this summer include New Orleans, Orlando, Utah, the Lakers, Chicago, New York, Minnesota, Denver, Phoenix, Brooklyn, Sacramento, Dallas, and Philly.
That would also leave quite a few gaping holes in the Spurs’ rotation without the necessary cap space to add quality players unless they take a significant pay cut.
The Spurs have pulled salary-cap rabbits out of their hat to sign marquee free agents before, but this is a much taller task.
Does it even make sense for the Spurs to sign Paul?
That depends on who you are in the equation. If you’re the soon-to-be 26-year-old Kawhi Leonard, you may not want a 32-year-old ball-dominant floor general on your team. Paul is one of the most popular players in the NBA, and other aging veterans would flock to San Antonio for a chance to play alongside him.
That means Kawhi’s prime could potentially waste away alongside players who may be well past their own. Instead, the Spurs could flip Aldridge, who put up a dud in the playoffs more often than not, for a point guard more in Leonard’s age bracket. Perhaps to the Phoenix Suns in a deal for Eric Bledsoe, who just came off the best season of his career? Aldridge did nearly sign in Phoenix, after all.
If you’re the 31-year-old Aldridge, Paul’s arrival all but ensures your safety after a dubious postseason left many questioning your importance to this team. You want that pick-and-pop action with one of the best screen maestros in basketball history. You want to remind people why you were a coveted free agent last summer and that your value doubles when setting screens on a player who still commands a double on the drive.
If you’re Gregg Popovich, Paul may be your last hope at challenging the Warriors (and the Rockets) for a Western Conference crown. Golden State’s going to keep that squad together as long as it can, and Houston only has one superstar. You don’t want to see the Rockets if they add a second.
Dejounte Murray had promising blips his rookie season, but he’s only 20 years old. He needs time to develop into a starter, let alone a star.
Paul is ready to roll right now. But do you want a ball-dominant guard who scores primarily off the pick-and-roll and in isolation? Do you want someone who’s dribbling the ball into the ground looking for an assist, which will slow down your free-flowing offense while taking the ball out of Leonard’s hands? How will adding Paul aid or stunt Leonard’s rapid development into a superstar? And are you sure you can convince CP3 that his way hasn’t worked and to conform to your ways, which have painted a legacy that speaks for itself?
And if you’re Paul, the focus of this story, the ball is in your court. Do you leave the vibrant city of Los Angeles for San Antonio? Do you butcher the relationships you made with the Clippers for a remote chance at a championship with the Spurs? Did you push for the 38-year-old max deal just to leave Los Angeles and not sign one? And are your odds at beating the Warriors any better with the Spurs than building more with the Clippers? And are any of those long shot odds worth giving up $60 million?
Both Paul and the Spurs have a lot of soul searching to do this summer as they plan their next steps after respectively disappointing seasons. We can only wait and see how it pans out.