The summer of 2017 will be a big one for Chris Paul. First, his Los Angeles Clippers are the #4 seed in the playoffs and Paul is looking to advance past the second round for the first time in his career. The other reason this summer is so meaningful to Paul is that he can (and will) opt out of his contract with the Clippers, thus making him a free agent. Paul has a player option worth over $24 million for next season, but seeing with the rise of contracts across the league; Paul will opt out as he can make more on the open market.
Paul will be 32 in May but is still among the NBA’s elite point guards and has even been labeled the “point god.” Every single team in need of an upgrade at that position will consider signing Paul once he hits the open market, but Paul is less likely to consider every team. He wants to win. He needs to win. An NBA championship is the only thing missing from his resume and with over $160 million already in the bank from his career earnings; Paul will likely only be looking at teams that can get him over the hump.
As the clock ticks down until Paul becomes a free agent, it’s time to project into the future and look at which teams he would be willing to play for. It’s also time to look at the teams who will be interested in Paul, but won’t have their feelings reciprocated. With that being said, here are the top eight teams Chris Paul might want to play for next season and seven he doesn’t want any part of.
15 Want: Charlotte Hornets
LeBron went home to Cleveland. Carmelo went home to New York. D-Wade went home to Chicago. Why not the 4th member of the Banana Boat Crew return to his home of North Carolina? Paul grew up in Winston-Salem, NC which is about 80 miles northeast of Charlotte and he played college ball at nearby Wake Forest. Paul already returns home every summer as his CP3 Foundation is based in North Carolina, so why not just live there full-time?
The basketball fit isn’t perfect, but does make sense. Yes, Kemba Walker is an All-Star point guard but Paul is a Hall of Fame point guard and would be an upgrade. Or, the two can play together just as Walker and Jeremy Lin did two seasons ago. Also, Walker, who is a native of the Bronx, has mentioned before that he would love to play for his hometown Knicks. The fact that Charlotte missed the playoffs this past season isn’t likely to entice Paul, but the team is still one of the few that he will actually consider this offseason.
14 Won’t: New York Knicks
Let’s start with the most obvious team that any self-respecting free agent would avoid: the New York Knicks. MSG is still MSG but Phil Jackson and James Dolan are still Phil Jackson and James Dolan. With Carmelo, we’ve seen how Jackson treats his star players and with Charles Oakley, we’ve seen how Dolan treats his former players and why would Paul want any part of that? Kristaps Porzingis is a nice piece but the Knicks are years away from competing from a championship and that’s all Paul wants to do at this point. Also, since the NBA moved into its current era of pace-and-space and position-less basketball, the Triangle Offense hasn’t won anything. That offense also handcuffs playmaking point guards to an extent so Paul should consider playing overseas before playing for the Knicks.
13 Want: Toronto Raptors
Paul’s interest in the Raptors would be contingent on Kyle Lowry opting out of his contract (which he will) and signing somewhere else (which he may do). Paul is viewed as the guy who can’t get over the hump while the Raptors are viewed as the team that can’t get over the hump. The marriage between the two would be a perfect one as the Raptors are in win-now mode and they play in the weaker conference. Paul also has the ability to make any center he’s playing with an All-Star (Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan) and he could provide the boost that Jonas Valanciunas needs to get to that level. For years DeMar DeRozan has claimed that he is half of the best backcourt in the NBA and if the Raptors were to substitute Lowry for Paul; then DeRozan may actually be correct.
12 Won’t: Dallas Mavericks
After playing for Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer for the past six seasons, Paul likely wants to play for a low-key, under-the-radar owner and he wouldn’t be getting that in Dallas. Any team that signs Tony Romo to a ceremonial contract seems to be more interested in making headlines and getting press than actually winning. Since winning the NBA Championship in 2011, the Mavericks have not even won a playoff series even with one of the best active coaches and one of the greatest players ever in tow. After playing in the shadow of the Saints in New Orleans and the Lakers in L.A. Paul likely wants to avoid a town where high school football teams get as much coverage as the NBA team does.
11 Want: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are terrible, don’t know how to tank, and could lose their draft pick; however, the Lakers are still The Lakers. Just like the Yankees or the Cowboys, there is a prestige that comes with suiting up in that purple and gold. Having Magic Johnson as the President of Basketball Operations is definitely a plus and he can relate to a fellow point guard in Paul just as John Elway did when he recruited Peyton Manning to the Broncos.
Remember, before Paul was traded to the Clippers, he was traded to the Lakers in a deal that later got vetoed. Kobe and Phil Jackson are no longer around but those 16 championship banners are. Also, from a logistics standpoint this would be the best move for Paul as he wouldn’t even have to move, change his route to work, or put his kids in a new school.
10 Won’t: Boston Celtics
Much of the appeal in the Celtics doesn’t necessarily lie in their present, but rather their future. They will have Brooklyn’s 1st round pick in 2017 and 2018 thanks to the Pierce/KG trades years ago. Thus, Paul would be joining a team whose best players may not reach their primes for another 4-5 years from now. He is in win-now mode and the Celtics’ decision to not trade for Jimmy Butler or Paul George at the trade deadline signifies that they are thinking more about their future than their present. Then there is the Isaiah Thomas contract situation. He may be the most underpaid player in the league and is owed just $6.2 million next season. There is no way the Celtics would move Thomas and that salary to accommodate Paul and his likely $25 million salary.
9 Want: Chicago Bulls
Paul has always wanted to play with fellow members of the Banana Boat Crew and this would be his best opportunity to do so. LeBron and the Cavs are set at point guard while there’s no way in hell CP3 wants anything to do with the Knicks so Carmelo is out of the picture and that makes D-Wade the best bet. Paul joining Chicago would pretty much guarantee that Wade opts into his contract plus Jimmy Butler is signed through 2019. There are rumors that Jimmy Butler has gone Hollywood and wants to move to L.A. So why not just bring L.A. (by means of Paul) to Butler? With Paul, Wade, and Butler, all Chicago would need to become a contender is a real NBA coach.
8 Won’t: Portland Trail Blazers
The obvious reason that CP3 won’t consider the Blazers is that they already have an All-Star point guard in Damian Lillard who is also five years younger than Paul. The less-obvious reason that Paul won’t consider Portland is that the team already has $140 million committed to salaries next season which is $12 million more than any other team. Also armed with three first round picks in 2017, if anything, the Warriors will be looking to get rid of players instead of bringing them in. In terms of a basketball fit, it doesn’t make sense for Paul to leave a good team to go to an above-average team. The Blazers are in the NBA’s middle class: they are good enough to make the playoffs but no one sees them as a true contender which is what Paul is looking for.
7 Want: Milwaukee Bucks
This is a long shot, but if the Bucks make noise this postseason, this will be an extremely intriguing option. The Bucks’ players’ average age makes them the Eastern Conference’s youngest playoff team and over the next few years they are poised to make leaps as long as Giannis’ strides. Speaking of the Greek Freak, he is already a superstar at just 22 and he just needs a running mate who can take pressure off him. Going from Los Angeles to Milwaukee would be a big cultural change, but that would be somewhat mitigated by the heaps of cash that the Bucks can throw at Paul once Greg Monroe opts out of his contract. If Paul and Jason Kidd can put aside their past differences, this would be a perfect basketball fit.
6 Won’t: Houston Rockets
Chris Paul and James Harden would form the best backcourt in the NBA but, as weird as it sounds, CP3 wouldn’t be a great fit in the Mike D’Antoni offense. D’Antoni and Rockets GM Daryl Morey are both analytically-driven and they hate mid-range shots. All they want from their team is shots in the paint and 3P shots and while Paul is capable of getting those, much of his game lies in the mid-range. This past season 47% of Paul’s field goal attempts were in the mid-range and Paul would have to change his game to fit into the Rockets’ offense. Some things in life just don’t make sense and Patrick Beverley being a better fit for an offense than Chris Paul would be is one of them.
5 Want: San Antonio Spurs
Among all of the teams Paul would consider playing for; this team offers him the best chance at getting a ring or two. CP3 seems like the perfect type of player for the Spurs’ system and Gregg Popovich is obviously a big fan of Paul as he told rookie Dejounte Murray to study Paul’s game film to pick up the little intricacies that make him so great. The Spurs used to be the franchise that didn’t go after big-time free agents but in consecutive years they have gone after LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, and Pau Gasol. The Spurs' current point guard, Tony Parker, is going to the Hall of Fame but he should make a stop on the Spurs bench before heading to Springfield. Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge would give the Spurs a new Big 3 while at the same time hurting one of the team’s biggest rivals, the LA Clippers.
4 Won’t: Miami Heat
The Heat have the cap space, the market, and the culture that would appeal to Paul. However, they also have something, or rather someone, that would put-off Paul and that is Pat Riley. Yes, Riley can dump his 9 rings on the table to whet Paul’s appetite, but CP3 also knows how Riley treated his best friends, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. All Paul has to do is pick up the phone and call his buddies to get a clearer picture of what it’s like to play under Riley. LeBron went to South Beach to play with Wade, not play for Riley, and with the Banana Boat Crew long gone; the appeal for Paul just isn’t there. Miami surprised some people this year with their inspiring play, but if Paul were to meet with Riley, there wouldn’t be any surprises with his buddies already giving him answers to the test.
3 Want: Los Angeles Clippers
Let’s throw in the most obvious scenario and that is Paul returning to the Clippers. Much of it will depend on how deep into the playoffs the Clippers get this year. Perhaps even more important is what the franchise does with its other free agents including Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick. If the band is brought back together for another run, then there may not be a better option for Paul. He knows the city, his family lives there, and the Clippers have seemingly been knocking on the door of the Finals for years.
Also, there’s this little caveat: the Clippers can offer Paul more money than any other team can. Money isn’t everything for a guy who’s been in the league for 12 years, but it is awfully hard to say no to the extra $40 million that the Clippers can offer Paul as opposed to other teams.
2 Won’t: Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry is a free agent this summer and under the unlikely scenario that Curry leaves the Warriors, don’t expect Paul to be his replacement. Golden State will do everything it can do to retain Curry but if he departs, Paul doesn’t want to be viewed as a team’s “second option.” He also doesn’t want to be viewed as a ring-chaser which is what he would be if the Warriors win the title this season and he joins them in the offseason. Paul has lots of friends around the league, but don’t count Kevin Durant as one of them. Paul infamously delivered a low-blow to Durant last year and the two aren’t on the best of terms (not Durant-Westbrook level but still not friends, nonetheless).
1 Want: New Orleans Pelicans
CP3 has to seriously consider going back to where his pro career began but The Big Easy looks much different now than when Paul left in 2011. The Pelicans already have two top-15 players in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and adding another one would give them the best Big 3 in the league. Paul’s buddy, LeBron James, essentially replaced Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the younger Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and now Paul can do the same. Out with the old (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) and in with the new (Davis and Cousins). Paul would also be reunited with coach Alvin Gentry who was an assistant with the Clippers in 2013-14. The Pelicans can even do a sign-and-trade with Paul going to New Orleans and L.A. native, Jrue Holiday, heading back to his hometown.