The basketball gods have never wanted Chris Paul to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. When the then-New Orleans Hornets traded a 26-year-old Paul to the Lakers, former commissioner David Stern, acting as governor of the league-owned Hornets, axed the trade for “basketball reasons.” The stars never aligned for Paul and the Lakers again.
They didn’t have cap space when he became a free agent in 2013. They did four years later, but with Kobe Bryant retired and no co-stars in place, Paul instead forced his way to Houston. He became a free agent again only a year later, and as tempting as the opportunity to join with newly-signed Laker and close friend LeBron James must have been tempting, Paul chose to remain with the Rockets after they came one game short of the NBA Finals. He was traded to Oklahoma City a year later and Phoenix thereafter with the Lakers focused on building around the James-Anthony Davis duo.
But every time Paul becomes available, Lakers fans beg for the team to pursue him. The 2021 offseason will be no different as Paul has a player option in his contract with the Suns. Laker legend and former team president Magic Johnson started the campaign on Twitter after Game 5 of the Finals.
“If Chris Paul opts out of his contract with the Suns, his first call should be from his best friend LeBron James and the Lakers,” Johnson tweeted. “A big three with LeBron, Chris, and AD will equal a NBA championship!”
The salary cap for next season is projected to come in at around $112.4 million. Right now the Lakers have roughly $112.2 million in salaries committed for next season. That does not include Montrezl Harrell’s player option, the No. 22 overall pick, or any of their own free agents. Barring several surprise trades, the Lakers are not going to have cap space this offseason. In fact, even if they wanted to create space, they couldn’t legally generate enough of it to outbid Phoenix.
And remember, that number we threw out for the Lakers was what they could have offered Paul if they traded their entire roster aside from James and Davis. That, realistically, is not how they would approach such an addition. The slightly more feasible but ultimately still unrealistic path would be a sign-and-trade. To make one work, the Lakers would have to send out at least 80 percent of whatever Paul’s new salary would be in the trade.
So let’s say Paul was willing to leave a bit of money on the table to join the Lakers, and let’s pretend the Suns are completely willing to cooperate on sending to the Lakers (which they absolutely are not). If we start Paul off at $30 million next season, the Lakers would have around $111.5 million in salaries committed only to him, James and Davis with Deng’s dead money still on the books. That would leave them only a bit more than $31 million to fill out the entire rest of the roster. That’s two extra starters and an entire bench for nearly the same amount they’d be paying Paul. Forget about whether or not that’s feasible. Is it even worth it?
Look, it’s the NBA. Weird stuff happens all of the time. Never say never. But the sort of financial sacrifice it would take to make Paul a Laker this offseason wouldn’t just be uncharacteristic of him, specifically. It would be among the biggest sacrifices in the history of professional basketball. Maybe Paul, who is in the twilight of his career and just came closer to the title than he ever had, wants a championship badly enough to do it anyway. Maybe his friendship with James would make such a sacrifice worthwhile. But no matter how badly Lakers fans want it, players rarely pass up the amount of money Paul would need to pass up to wear the purple and gold.
Courtesy: CBS Sports