Suns decision on Chris Paul could have major impact on free agent market

The point guard market will feature the most important dominoes of this NBA offseason, and that was before Chris Paul’s future in Phoenix took center stage this week, adding another brand name to the picture. . The Suns met with Paul and his representation on Wednesday, according to multiple reports, and discussed the likelihood that Phoenix could waive the future Hall of Fame point guard before his $30.8 million salary is guaranteed on June 28 – leaving the franchise on the hook for just $15.8 million. of Paul’s 2023-24 income.

In this scenario, an ideal Suns outcome would be to keep Paul on a new contract at the veteran’s minimum, with the option of adding another rotational element thanks to the taxpayers’ $5 million mid-tier exception. If Phoenix were to waive and stretch Paul’s remaining salary, it would significantly reduce the Suns’ annual operating costs and allow Phoenix to advance to the full mid-level exception – but also disqualify the team from re-signing Paul. to a new contract.

A formal communication of these storylines is certainly a new development, but this predicament for Phoenix and its general floor has been looming since Paul signed his four-year, $120 million contract in 2021. Beyond that next release date guaranteed, not all of Paul’s $30 million salary for the 2024-25 season is guaranteed — which has always saved the Suns $45 million off that four-year total if the now-aged Paul 38 years old, decreased production or showed persistent difficulties with an injury. And with this year’s warranty date fast approaching, Phoenix’s front office was already exploring backcourt additions ahead of the trade deadline, league sources told Yahoo Sports, with a particular eye on the point guards who could have relieved Paul during this post-season or perhaps replaced him in the future. .

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul watches from the bench during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA Basketball Western Conference semifinal series against the Denver Nuggets, Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Phoenix.  The Nuggets knocked out the Sun in their 125-100 win.  (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Suns have a lot to discover when it comes to Chris Paul’s future. (AP Photo/Matt York)

While Terry Rozier has often been rumored as a Suns target, apparently since Phoenix showed interest in the combo guard when he reached free agency in 2019, the Suns’ front office led by the Chairman and CEO James Jones has not recently sued Rozier from Charlotte, sources say. said. Phoenix holds the Knicks’ Sixth Man of the Year finalist Immanuel Quickley in high regard, sources told Yahoo Sports, dating back to Quickley’s entry into the 2020 NBA Draft. first-rounder that fell out of Boston’s rotation, has several supporters in Phoenix’s front office, sources said, and should figure prominently in the NBA’s general trading landscape this summer when Pritchard becomes eligible for the ‘extension. Another rookie player who’s been on the Suns’ radar is Kings guard Davion Mitchell. Phoenix also monitored Washington table setter Monte Morris and Miami guard Gabe Vincent, according to league sources.

Most of those names, however, made more sense as in-season upgrades over reserve guard Cam Payne. Still, the Suns won’t have a long list of premium options to replace Paul. Vincent’s strong playoff performance for Miami, averaging 13.6 points on 40.2% shooting from range this playoff and in the NBA Finals, has many league staff projecting that Vincent could command well above the full intermediate level. At that salary, the Lakers would easily match a Suns offer sheet for Austin Reaves. Fred VanVleet, who can achieve unrestricted free agency by declining a 2023-24 player option, appears unattainable for Phoenix outside of a sign-and-trade scenario that could only come after Paul’s guarantee date. . But the Suns only have trades of negotiable picks left after February’s mega-deal to land Kevin Durant, and most teams would expect some form of compensation for taking over the $30.8 million cap. from Paul. Rival executives are also bracing for VanVleet to pull multiple offers from potential suitors with cap room such as Orlando and Houston, which could put Phoenix out altogether. Ditto for numbers on any position with Toronto.

We’ll hear about more glamorous signing and trade opportunities for Phoenix. Any team with championship aspirations and All-NBA talent like Durant and Devin Booker will start shopping at the edge of the market and then work down. Portland has enjoyed Suns center Deandre Ayton in the past, sources tell Yahoo Sports, but Phoenix is ​​too short on assets to have a realistic chance of luring Damian Lillard from Portland if the Blazers franchise player is ultimately looking. to play elsewhere this summer. Lillard made notable waves this week when he told Showtime he considered Brooklyn and Miami viable destinations in case he asked for a trade. The rival offices are certainly hoping Lillard plays the card he never has if Portland can’t find proper upgrades to the Blazers’ roster by dangling the No. 3 pick in this month’s draft. Although the franchise and the superstar appear to be prioritizing building a genuine playoff contender around Lillard, with plans underway to re-sign forward Jerami Grant as well, sources said.

And then there’s the idea of ​​Phoenix trading Paul for James Harden, who has been quietly circulating among some league personnel since the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. A reunion between Harden and Durant is great fodder, and the bearded point guard could possibly choose his 2023-24 player option provided Philadelphia trades him to the Suns. You may recall Paul performing this exact maneuver to join Harden in Houston in 2017. Harden, however, has much more to gain financially by staying with the 76ers or returning to the Rockets and their $60 million-plus in waiting. ceiling space.

If there’s a dream frame that could come true, let’s not forget Phoenix’s strong overtures to acquire Kyrie Irving — another key point guard this offseason — before Brooklyn sends the dazzling ball handler to Dallas. . The Suns have dropped their pursuit of Irving and refocused on getting Durant a bigger prize, but Phoenix officials haven’t just dropped their interest in Irving four years ago. month. That would require some cooperation from the Mavericks, who have so far signaled little willingness to consider a potential signing and trade for Irving with the Lakers, sources said. Dallas, of course, hopes to retain Irving after mortgaging two key rotational plays plus a 2029 first-round pick to acquire him. But if Irving called his shot out of town, maybe the Mavericks would be more willing to work with a return that brought in Paul as opposed to Los Angeles point guard D’Angelo Russell.

Would Phoenix take Russell for Paul? The Suns had discussions with the Timberwolves regarding Russell before the trade deadline, sources told Yahoo Sports, before Minnesota found him a new home with the Lakers. Phoenix has also coveted Wolves center Naz Reid in trade talks, sources said.

Russell is known to be close friends with Booker. Additionally, the Lakers are reportedly exploring similar signing and trade opportunities with Russell. For Los Angeles and Phoenix, losing Russell through free agency or waiving Paul would sacrifice a $30 million salary slab that seems all the more valuable while securing a daunting new second tax apron in the league’s next collective bargaining agreement. These decisions aren’t made on a whim, and that’s why Phoenix and Paul began discussing various alternatives about three weeks before free agency began.

Paul has a lot of power there too. If no trade materializes and Phoenix doesn’t have a ton of initial leverage on the phone with another front office, then waiving Paul might be as good as saying goodbye to Paul. Several player agents contacted by Yahoo Sports indicated that Paul could still pick up parts, if not the full middle tier, from various teams on the open market. And if Paul’s only option to return to Phoenix is ​​on the veteran’s minimum, what’s to stop the savviest veteran of them all from taking that identical salary from a team like the Lakers? He has family ties to Los Angeles, not to mention a longtime friendship with LeBron James. Any Paul reunion with the Clippers would seem to have at least one roadblock. There has been no indication of anything other than a mutual interest between Russell Westbrook and Steve Ballmer’s franchise to bring back the team’s key buyout addition starting this spring. Los Angeles already faces its own tricky cap gymnastics if they want to find Westbrook more than his non-Bird salary of around $3.8 million.

There will be changes in Phoenix whether Paul stays or leaves. Several assistant coaches, such as Mark Bryant, are expected to follow Monty Williams to Detroit, where former Houston head coach Stephen Silas will be the Pistons associate head coach, and former 76ers assistant Dan Burke according to sources, should also join. in front of Williams’ bench. It remains to be seen if Williams will be successful in removing Jarrett Jack from the Suns. Jack, another close friend of Paul, sat behind the bench at Phoenix for the 22-23 season and was known to be a coaching figure in his own right among Suns players.

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