Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, left, goes to the basket in front of Sacramento Kings guard Garrett Temple during the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
The NBA Finals are not yet over, but there are already rumblings of free agency gathering steam, the loudest of which is the possibility that Chris Paul will opt out of his existing contract to hit the open market. With his early termination clause, this would mean hitting the free agency as early as the first of July.
After six straight seasons without making the conference finals despite winning 60 percent of the games in each of those seasons, the 32-year old point god may be at the point of taking his talents away from Clipperland. Their core of Paul, Griffin, Jordan, and Reddick, have blown a series lead an unprecedented five straight seasons to bow out of the playoffs.
While most of those playoff exits were due to some unforeseen stroke of bad luck, where Griffin, or Paul, or both, fell to injury, there were still instances where they simply couldn’t shut the door on an opponent. For example, blowing a 14-point lead with four minutes to play, which would have given them a 3-2 series lead over the OKC Thunder in 2014, or giving up a 3-1 series lead to lose to the Houston Rockets in 2015.
Whatever the reasons, the early first round exit this season at the hands of the upstart Utah Jazz, may be the straw that finally breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Clippers management may see this as an opportune time to break up their core and begin the painful process of rebuilding.
For Paul as well, this may be as good a time as any to evaluate whether this group of guys actually has what it takes to take the next step, given that they’ve fallen short year in and year out. At age 32, the window for winning a championship in his prime is closing fast, and with Golden State not looking to release their stranglehold on the West’s top spot anytime soon, his best hope of overcoming them looks to be banding with a team that actually challenged the Warriors in the regular season, and would have had a decent chance of doing so had it not been for injuries in the Playoffs – the San Antonio Spurs.
According to reports, there is mutual interest between the Spurs and Chris Paul’s camp about the possibility of the point guard’s move down south. After landing LeMarcus Aldridge a couple years back, and Pau Gasol last year, the Spurs have become a serious destination for veterans who want to have a shot at a ring. A lineup with Aldridge, MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, and Chris Paul, under Coach Gregg Popovich, will definitely shake things up in the West. Not only would the Spurs have a legitimate post threat in Aldridge, they also have arguably the game’s best two-way player in Leonard. Add to that another All-NBA talent – not to mention a nine-time All Star, 8eight-time All-Defensive Team Member, and outstanding leader – and you’ve got possibly the next trio of Hall of Famers post-Duncan-Parker-Ginobili to don the black and silver. Another benefit would be the Spurs philosophy of balanced minutes and resting players, which would prolong Paul’s career where he is at peak performance.
Of course, sweet-sounding as this scenario may be for Spurs fans, the reality of this happening is quite far-fetched. The Spurs would have to sacrifice a lot of players, effectively giving up the team’s depth – one of the reasons it’s been successful for so long – just to add a piece like Paul, due to the cap space his salary would take up.
A closer look at San Antonio’s salary commitments for next season reveals they have about $73 million guaranteed, with the cap set at $102 million. The problem is, that total doesn’t include the cap holds of Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons, nor Pau Gasol’s salary should he decide to opt in. All told, the Spurs would end up over the salary cap, with no room to accommodate Paul’s $34 million max contract. They would have to gut their lineup, allow Ginobili to retire, and give up guys like Mills, Simmons, Green, Gasol, and even Kyle Anderson – pretty much their entire bench – just to have enough room under the cap to sign him; a scenario highly unlikely for a franchise with a history such as the Spurs.
But probably the biggest obstacle to Chris Paul moving is the fact that he would be leaving a boatload of money on the table, should he opt to exit LA. The Clippers can offer Paul a five-year max contract worth in excess of $200 million, while San Antonio can only offer four years worth about $152 million. Assuming he wanted the Spurs to remain a contender, he’d probably have to take even less money to allow them to keep some veterans like Green and Anderson. Clearly, this would not be the best decision for him money-wise, granting that this may be his last max contract for his career.
In the end, while a Chris-Paul-to-the-Spurs move would send shockwaves throughout the NBA, the reality that both sides would have to sacrifice way too much just to get the deal done, makes the scenario a tad too unlikely.
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