SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 23: Chris Paul #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on during an opening night game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Smart Home Arena on October 23, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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Trading for Chris Paul would be a major risk for the New York Knicks, but one that could pay off in a perfect world.

Danny Small

According to SNY’s Ian Begley, some people with the New York Knicks are interested in trading for Chris Paul. The All-Star point guard is seen as someone who could establish the right culture for the franchise.

“There are still people with the Knicks that believe that bringing Chris Paul onto this roster at this time would jumpstart the franchise’s effort to build a winning culture, to give these young players winning habits,” Begley said.

This isn’t the first time these rumors have surfaced. In early March, Frank Isola of SiriusXM NBA Radio reported that the Knicks were thinking about making a run at the 10-time All-Star.

Paul, 34, has two years and upwards of $85 million left on his contract. Despite that hefty contract, the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to what some serious compensation in return for the All-Star.

For three straight seasons, Paul missed the All-Star Game and only played in 61 games or fewer in each year. He had a resurgence in Oklahoma City and played in 63 out of a possible 64 games.

The obvious connection between Paul and the Knicks is Leon Rose. The current Knicks president represented Paul through CAA during his days as an agent. It would only make sense for Rose to want to bring in a top client to help turn around his new team.

On one hand, this has all the look of a classic Knicks mistake—chasing for an aging star on a massive contract. Sure, there are definite risks behind trading for Chris Paul, but in theory, it could work.

What would it take?

First off, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and their own 2020 first-round pick have to be off-limits. Barrett showed enough flashes of All-Star potential to warrant “off-limit” status while Robinson could develop into a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate. As for the 2020 pick, the Knicks still need to add young talent to the roster.

The Knicks have a war chest of draft picks coming in the next few years. In addition to their own, New York has three first-round draft picks coming from the Los Angeles Clippers (2020) and Dallas Mavericks (2021, 2023) plus two valuable second-rounders from the lowly Charlotte Hornets (2020, 2021).

The draft capital is a good place to start, but these types of deals would have to involve a young player as well. Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina are two recent lottery picks, but neither player would be untouchable in the right deal. Recent reports suggest the Knicks are more apt to move Knox, but neither play is completely off-limits.

Of course, it would also take some contract filler to make the salaries work as well.

Why would it work?

In theory, it’s easy to see how a trade for Chris Paul would help create a winning culture. Step one, Paul and the Knicks make the playoffs. Step two, the young core develops winning habits and gains valuable playoff experience. Step three, Paul eventually passes the torch off to the young stars.

It’s obviously a bit more complex than that, but the theory is simple. Paul is still an All-Star level point guard who has the potential to bring the Knicks to the playoffs in the short-term and help the youth develop into winners in the long run.

Paul has been up to the task of doing exactly this with the Thunder. Although the Knicks have a younger, more inexperienced core than Oklahoma City, playing in the Eastern Conference would be a much easier path to the playoffs.

I’d bet that most Knicks fans would take a playoff appearance, even if the Chris Paul-led Knicks don’t stand much of a chance of making a run to the NBA Finals. This would be a big first step in re-establishing some legitimacy as a franchise.

A perennial spot in the playoffs fueled up-and-coming stars like Barrett and Robinson would make the Knicks an enticing free-agent destination. The constant narratives that persist about why the Knicks can’t attract superstars in free agency would fade away.

If Paul can make it work, other stars might not be so wary of signing up to make Madison Square Garden home.

Why won’t it work?

In a perfect world, Paul would be able to singlehandedly turn around the franchise and the Knicks would start a 2020s dynasty. Unfortunately, there are so many details that need to break right for a Chris Paul trade to result in the kind of culture change that some in the Knicks organization are hoping for.

As discussed earlier, the compensation is a tricky deal and matching salaries won’t be fun. Good luck to “capologist” Brock Aller on that front.

And another minor detail that’s worth mentioning, what if Paul suffers a significant dropoff in New York? He turns 35 this month and will be making over $44 million as a 36-year-old. No one makes that kind of money just to be a mentor for younger players. He’ll be expected to produce at an All-Star level.

It’s not crazy to be wary of a 35-year-old point guard with a history of injury problems. Sure, the most recent history, the 2019-20 season, says Paul is as healthy as he’s been in years. Still, taking on a soon-to-be-35-year-old is always going to be a major risk.

If the Knicks are willing to take that risk, the juice might be worth the squeeze. But make no mistake, if the Knicks trade for Chris Paul, Leon Rose is going to be on the clock to win from day one.

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