According to Frank Isola of SiriusXM NBA Radio, the New York Knicks reportedly have interest in trading for Oklahoma City guard Chris Paul after the season. The Knicks’ new president of basketball operations, Leon Rose, was once Paul’s agent for many years. New York, who hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013, is looking to duplicate the success the Los Angeles Lakers had in hiring Rob Pelinka, also a former player agent, as their general manager three years ago.
Paul has had a year of resurgence after being traded to the Thunder this past offseason. Once thought to be too injury-prone and on the decline to be an impact player anymore, Paul has flipped that narrative into an All-Star campaign, while leading the surprising Thunder–who many thought were in the beginnings of a rebuild–to a season that will likely end in a playoff berth. In addition, while his times in Houston and Los Angeles ended with rumors of locker room drama, Paul has been nothing but a consummate professional and dream veteran leader for a team with more than their fair share of young players.
Before arriving in OKC, Paul averaged just 59 games played a year for the previous three seasons. This season, he has already played in 61 games, and the only game he missed was to mourn the loss of his good friend, Kobe Bryant. Much has been reported about Paul’s switch to a plant-based diet, which seems to have helped his conditioning and recovery in this, his 15th season. He is currently posting the second highest True Shooting (TS%) mark of his career and leads the league in a plethora of clutch/crunch-time categories. To say that this version of Chris Paul wouldn’t help most teams in the league would be asinine.
But why the Knicks?
Why New York? In short, because they need to do something. Since losing to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000, New York has only made the playoffs five times since then. And they’ve only sniffed the 2nd round of the playoffs once during that time frame. Lately, the Knicks have been known more for who they are kicking out of Madison Square Garden than for who they are putting on its floor.
In the mid-late 2000s, the Knicks were hellbent on constructing a championship contender via free agency. They figured players would flock to New York City because they are New York City. But when players like Kobe and LeBron James turned down the Knicks, and the Carmelo Anthony experience didn’t prove fruitful, the team decided to switch their approach to more of a developmental rebuild in the mid-2010s. Many thought Kristaps Porzingis would be the new face of the franchise, but that relationship soured quickly and Porzingis was sent to the Dallas Mavericks.
And so here we are. A franchise mired in mediocrity for much of the past two decades with absolutely nothing of worth to show for it on their roster. Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett are good, young players, but they aren’t franchise cornerstones. Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr are both inconsistent and not ideal fits for today’s NBA. And the team has enough power forwards to fill out a soccer field.
With a player like Chris Paul on the court, all that franchise cloudiness has the potential to dissipate. Paul provides something the Knicks haven’t had in years: leadership from the point guard position. The last time the Knicks had a competent point guard was in 2013, when Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks to the 2nd round of the playoffs.
For the Knicks, this wouldn’t necessarily be a move for next season. It would be a set-up for the 2021 free agency bonanza, where players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Anthony Davis could all possibly be free agents. New York will likely have enough cap space that offseason to give out two max contracts. And with the history that Leon Rose and Chris Paul have, there is likely no one out there better equipped to convince Paul to possibly decline the final year of his contract in order to provide the team with more cap flexibility, while also possibly giving Paul access to more years, but less yearly money on an extension.
What does a deal with the Knicks look like this offseason? First off, any trade made before the moratorium in July has to take into account the numbers being used in the trade are for the 2020-21 season. So the Knicks would be trading for a Chris Paul making $41.4 million, not the one making $38.5 million this season. For the Thunder, the Knicks have several players who can provide instant salary relief next season in the form of team options with small buy-out agreements if their contracts are declined. But the Thunder aren’t necessarily interested in cap relief. They want young players and draft picks for their upcoming rebuild. And that’s where New York makes a great trade partner for the Thunder. The Knicks have all their first rounders from now until 2026, along with Clippers’ first this upcoming draft and the Mavericks’ first round picks in both 2021 and 2023. In addition, New York has some valuable second round picks coming up over the next two drafts (their own, Charlotte’s in both drafts, and Detroit’s in 2021).
Any trade likely starts with Julius Randle, who will be making $18.9 million next season, and has another guaranteed year after that, which may mess up the Knicks’ plans of having cap space for 2021. Then, any of the other veterans on the team, like Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, and/or Elfrid Payton would make sense, as they all have team options for next season 1. Finally, the Knicks would likely have to throw in a young player to make the salaries work. Maybe someone like Kevin Knox, Ntilikina, or Smith Jr. Don’t forget the name Issuf Sannon. He’s a Hungarian point guard who was drafted in the second round of the 2018 draft and has been stashed overseas. For a team that is entering a rebuild, Sannon may be someone the Thunder take a gander at.
And then the picks….
The Knicks seem desperate, so the possibility of getting a good haul (and continuing Sam Presti’s impressive streak of asset-acquisition) may be there for the Thunder. I would fully expect for the Thunder to get at least one first rounder of value from a trade like this.
That’s all in the future, though. There’s plenty of time to worry about that later. For now, let’s continue to enjoy All-Star point guard Chris Paul, as he leads the Oklahoma City Thunder towards the playoffs.