Chris Paul is . His $30 million salary for 2023-24 becomes guaranteed on June 28, and indications, from both Shams Charania and Chris Haynes, are that he'll be waived prior to that date, though that hasn't been confirmed.
It's unlikely that Paul would be traded. To do so, someone would have to pick up his full $30 million salary for next season. His inability to stay healthy combined with his deteriorating production make it hard to believe a team would commit that kind of capital to him.
According to Haynes, Paul "plans to play several more years and is eager to help a team contend for a championship." With that in mind, I'm going to focus on legit title contenders in the list of possible Paul destinations below, with a few more teams to keep any eye on below that.
Keep in mind that the Suns could waive Paul, take his cap hit for this season and attempt to re-sign him on a longer deal at a lower annual rate. But since he's currently on the Suns' roster, I will not be including them as a possible destination. So, with that, let's get on to the list of teams we could see Paul playing for come October.
The connection with LeBron James is obvious. Great friends. . D'Angelo Russell was not the solution to that problem, but could he be in combination with Paul? What if Russell eats the bulk of the regular-season minutes, saving Paul, a less problematic defender, to take the bigger role in the postseason?
That's the upside, combined with the fact that the Lakers can pay Paul with cap space, heightening the figure they could offer. The downside? Good luck keeping Paul, James and Anthony Davis healthy for a full playoff run.
Russell Westbrook wouldn't like this, but Paul could walk onto a ready-made contender as the starting point guard next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. He wouldn't be relied upon to be a main creator, assuming the health of the two stars, and he would get to return to the franchise he spent six years with but was never able to get past the second round.
This would be a nice second-chance opportunity if Paul would accept what would probably be a minimum deal -- though he'd still get the $15.8 million from Phoenix -- as the Clippers are over the second luxury-tax apron, which takes away their midlevel exception.
It sounds strange to suggest that the third-best half-court offensive team during the regular season is in dire need of a half-court general, but that's the reality in Boston, which has yet to figure out how to create quality, rhythmic looks in late-game situations. Neither Jayson Tatum nor Jaylen Brown, for all their talent, can be relied upon to do so. And Marcus Smart and Derrick White? These aren't primary guys either.
The upside is that Paul would have the type of depth around him that would prevent him from being run into the ground all season, giving him relatively fresh legs to provide a major boost come playoff time. The Celtics, who could use the taxpayer mid-level exception of around $5 million annually, are a top-tier contender and would give Paul a real shot at his first ring.
Miami will have a hard time ducking the tax line with Gabe Vincent and Max Strus up for new deals. They almost always find ways to cut costs, and perhaps Paul on a taxpayer mid-level exception, or even non-taxpayer if they can find a way to get off Kyle Lowry and/or Duncan Robinson, is a way to go about that.
Most likely, the taxpayer mid-level exception is probably the best the Heat could offer Paul if they wanted to go down that road. But a cheaper version of Lowry would make sense. Paul fits everything about the Heat. I wouldn't think of him as a Vincent replacement, but perhaps I like Vincent more than others.
Jrue Holiday is the starter, but Paul could come off the bench and provide a boost to a Bucks offense that tends to struggle with creating quality half-court shots. Pick and roll with Giannis. Pick and pop with Brook Lopez, assuming Milwaukee re-signs him. Paul slots as a late-game creator who could, depending on how he's playing night to night, share reserve minutes with Jevon Carter, assuming he's back, as well, giving first-year coach Adrian Griffin an offense-defense option behind Holiday.
There's a lot on Milwaukee's plate this offseason. Lopez is a free agent. Khris Middleton will likely be a free agent as well by declining his $40 million player option in search of a long-term deal. I would be shocked if Carter didn't decline his $2.2 million player option in search of long-term security as he is worth way more than that on an annual basis. If all these guys are back in Milwaukee, Paul would be looking at minimal money from the Bucks. But he'd have a great chance at a ring.
Paul has the connection to Daryl Morey and James Harden from their Houston days. If Harden leaves, Paul could step in as the starter, though that's a really small backcourt with Tyrese Maxey. I actually like it more if Harden stays and Paul accepts a smaller role for a team that should, in theory, be on the doorstep of legit contention, but that would require the Sixers going way into the tax.
Depending on how friendly a deal that Harden might be willing to sign to remain with a contender in Philly rather than return to Houston, the Sixers could perhaps offer the taxpayer mid-level exception to Paul starting at roughly $5 million for the first season.
Also keep an eye on ...
- Memphis Grizzlies: Paul could give Memphis some cushion for however long Ja Morant's suspension is going to be. When, or if, Morant comes back next season, Paul becomes a steadying presence off the bench for a talented team that could really use some maturity.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: Could be a cheaper version of Mike Conley if they can move the latter, but I can't see them paying both Conley and Paul.
- San Antonio Spurs: Not a contender, but could pay Paul the most money of any reasonable suitor with plenty of cap space and the lure of assisting in the early development of Victor Wembanyama.
- Chicago Bulls: Lonzo Ball might be done playing NBA basketball. Could Paul convince himself that he could contend for a title alongside DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, and possibly Nikola Vucevic, who enters free agency this summer?