LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 02: Chris Paul #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder passes the ball during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets in Game Seven of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 02, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. 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.
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Chris Paul is a trade target who fits the new-look New York Knicks, but is the 35-year-old point guard worth it?

Josh Benjamin

Let’s have a conversation about Chris Paul.

He’s not a spring chicken anymore at 35 years old, but can still play at a high level. His Oklahoma City Thunder just battled the Houston Rockets in a seven-game first-round series in the NBA playoffs. Moreover, Oklahoma City almost won the decisive game in which Chris Paul became the oldest player to record a triple-double in Game 7.

And even though Paul is due over $80 million over the next two years, the New York Knicks have been loosely linked to him. Back in March, Frank Isola of SiriusXM reported the team was “gathering intel” on Paul. Isola also noted the future Hall of Famer used to be a client of new Knicks president Leon Rose, though Paul stayed in Oklahoma City.

Now, however, the rumors have quietly returned. Last month, Ian Begley of SNY reported there are still some in the Knicks organization who are very high on Paul and his leadership skills. Even with a high price tag, he is exactly the point guard the new-look Knicks need to reestablish a winning culture.

But is trading for Chris Paul worth it for the New York Knicks? Let’s take a closer look.

A complete point guard

For someone who turned 35 in May, Chris Paul was a remarkably productive player in the 2019-20 season. He averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 49% from the field and 36.5% from three-point range. The oft-injured Paul also played in 70 games for the first time in four years.

But those numbers only tell part of the story of how effective Paul was with the Thunder. He posted a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 61% and a total box plus/minus (BPM) of 4.4. Paul also had a 3.5 VORP, which is highly respectable for someone his age.

Paul’s effectiveness also followed him to the playoffs and not just Wednesday’s Game 7. It was he, not young star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who led the Thunder in playoff scoring with 21.3 points per contest. Paul also added 7.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists and made 49.1% of his shot attempts, plus 37.2% of his threes.

Now, think of how badly the Knicks need a point guard. Sure, they could draft one in the fall, but this year’s NBA Draft class is particularly weak. No talented point guard in it is a 100% surefire star.

But the Knicks’ offense needs a jumpstart now, and they have movable assets. Rather, if they do trade for Chris Paul, it’ll be so he can mentor whomever Rose dubs the team’s point man of the future.

What will he cost?

However, the Knicks shouldn’t just trade for Paul willy-nilly. Rose and general manager Scott Perry first need to seriously consider the potential financial consequences. Paul may be headed for the twilight of his career and not all he used to be, but he’s still expensive.

Per Spotrac, Paul has over $85.5 million remaining on a max contract he signed with the Houston Rockets back in 2018. Next season alone, he will make over $41.3 million. That’s a lot for someone 35 years old and a history of injuries, even if he can opt-out after next year.

Now, this is isn’t to say the Knicks don’t have the money. In fact, quite the opposite. Because the contracts of guys like Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, and others are only guaranteed for one year, they can be waived this offseason without issue. Theoretically, the Knicks could enter the offseason with over $50 million in cap space.

But that’s a lot of money for the Knicks to take on. On top of that, Anthony Davis could opt out of his contract and hit the market this offseason. Adding Chris Paul means the Knicks would have limited options in free agency, and they can’t just rely on the scrap heap again.

High trade price tag?

All this also to say that after a sort of resurgent season in Oklahoma City, Paul might not come cheap. Even as a 35-year-old, he’s still highly effective. Aside from the numbers mentioned earlier, he has never averaged more than three turnovers in a season, and that was all the way back in 2009.

Consider this. Last summer, the Rockets traded Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. This was after a season in which he had career lows in scoring and field goal percentage. Even though the Thunder tried to trade Paul the moment they acquired him, his price tag has arguably gone up since.

Fortunately for the Knicks, they have draft capital. They have not just their picks, but two acquired from the Dallas Mavericks in the Kristaps Porzingis trade. Even though Paul will likely cost a draft pick, pairing it with one of the players who can be waived and maybe Frank Ntilikina or Kevin Knox.

That is, if Rose and Perry are willing to take on Paul’s salary.

The verdict: Make the deal

The New York Knicks need to change their culture immediately, and that is why they absolutely need to pursue a Chris Paul trade this offseason. As was mentioned before, this is a weak draft class. Rebuilding through youth is important, but this isn’t the year to go all-in on a draft pick leading a turnaround.

This isn’t to say the Knicks won’t draft a point guard. In fact, they almost certainly will. Trading for Chris Paul means paying him a lot, but also having the ultimate Mr. Miyagi to mentor the younger guys. Paul is a 10-time All-Star whose body of work speaks for itself, even if he has never played in the NBA Finals.

Paul probably won’t win that elusive ring with the Knicks, not unless he re-signs as a free agent at age 36 or 37.

But if the Knicks are serious about changing the culture, Rose and Perry will find a way to land Chris Paul.

How it plays out, however, remains to be seen.

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