Minutes after Blake Griffin reportedly informed the Los Angeles Clippers he was opting out of the final year of his contract on Friday, Chris Paul did the same.
There's a very simple reason for their decisions. Both players signed max contracts under the old CBA, and the recent influx of cash via the NBA's new television deals means they can sign much richer contracts by opting out this summer.
Paul provides an especially interesting case study. As the president of the players association, CP3 was a big part of negotiating for the right of older players such as himself to remain eligible for so-called "super-max" contracts.
Such a deal would pay Paul upwards of $200 million over five years, while any other team can offer a maximum of four years at approximately $150 million. Paul would have to give up quite a bit in potential earnings to abandon the Clippers.
On the other hand, his failure to reach the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals, defines his career ever further with each passing season. Paul could decide all that money isn't worth giving up on a ring — or passing on an opportunity for a fresh start with teammates who actually enjoy his company.
Here are the five teams that could make a play for Paul this offseason, ranked from least likely to most likely landing spots.
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New York Knicks
What, just because Phil Jackson has become an expert at alienating his stars, and just because the Knicks run the triangle offense, and just because both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis could be gone in the not-too-distant future, you think CP3 would pass up an opportunity to play in the Mecca of basketball?
He could be the man to save the Knicks!
... yeah, okay. You're right. New York doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of signing Paul away from the Clippers — but the Knicks are still going to try.
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New Orleans Pelicans
Paul's been ramming his head into a wall for so long in Los Angeles that it's easy to forget he started his career in New Orleans.
He, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis would form a scary Big Three — and a potential antidote to the NBA's small-ball trend — while Paul's arrival to the Pelicans would all but guarantee that Boogie re-signs with New Orleans next summer.
Unfortunately, the Pels are a few years away from becoming a real title contender even with CP3 in town. They'd still need shooting and perhaps a coaching upgrade (sorry, Alvin Gentry). More importantly, they'd have to contend with that superteam by the Bay in Oakland. As much as we'd love to see if the Brow and Boogie could punish Golden State's small lineups, the Warriors have too much firepower for this hypothetical Pelicans team to pose a real threat.
Paul would have to decide he's okay with his lack of a conference finals appearance and making less money to flee to New Orleans. We're guessing that's not happening.
Let's assume GM Daryl Morey is successful in clearing the decks. What exactly is Houston's plan here? Are the Rockets thinking that if one MVP-caliber point guard is good, two would be better? Do they want to be able to have two dynamic playmakers on the floor whenever possible, and one or the other leading the charge at all times? (Probably, yes.)
As long as Harden's on board, we are, too — mostly because watching D'Antoni go to his basketball laboratory is such an amazing experience for everyone involved.
Let's say CP3 joins up with Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich this offseason and spends the 2017-18 campaign familiarizing himself with Pop's schemes. When LaMarcus Aldridge becomes a free agent in the summer of2018, the Spurs let him walk, make a few moves to clear a little bit more space, then sign LeBron James as he flees Cleveland for the safe harbor of a stable organization.
Frankly, that's the only way Paul leaving the Clippers makes sense. None of his other options get him any closer to an NBA Finals berth than he is with Los Angeles,* and he'd have to leave all that cold, hard American currency on the table.
*And Paul's not signing with the Lakers after they just drafted Lonzo Ball. Magic Johnson wouldn't undercut his new "leader" like that ... right?
If CP3 does jump ship to San Antonio, though, bank on LeBron joining him — or don't, if you're a rational human being. But conspiracies are way more fun.
Los Angeles Clippers
Stability. A lot of money. Jerry West. The lovely city of Los Angeles. And seriously, a lot of money.
The Clippers can offer all this and more to the best player in franchise history. The question is whether it will be enough.
Really, this comes down to the Clips and Spurs — and what's most important to Paul. San Antonio walks away with his services if he wants to go hard after a championship; Los Angeles retains its All-Star point guard if he wants the money and can envision The Logo somehow taking this team to the next level in the era of the Warriors.
The prediction here is that CP3 returns to the Clippers for next season. With all the chaos in the NBA these days, though, don't count on anything.