The future of 10-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul will be one of the NBA offseason’s most intriguing storylines.
Several teams have been suggested as suitors, including the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Knicks – and Paul makes obvious sense for the Knicks because of his ability to fill multiple needs. The 35-year-old would bring much-desired leadership to a young Knicks roster, and could mentor a point guard of the future.
His play for the Oklahoma City Thunder was strong enough to land CP3 on the 2019-20 All-NBA Second Team. Paul averaged 17.6 points per game, 6.7 assists per game, and 5.0 rebounds per game, and though his assist numbers were down, Paul is still renowned as one of the NBA’s finest distributors and playmakers.
The Knicks finished last season with the league’s 25th-ranked field goal percentage (44.7) and 27th-ranked three-point percentage (33.7). If Paul, who finished2019-20 with a .489 field goal percentage and a .365 three-point percentage, is added to the fold, his presence would boost the Knicks’ dreadful spacing and help RJ Barrett get more open looks.
With defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau installed as head coach, Knicks fans are hoping for improved two-way play. The Knicks finished last season 22nd overall with a defensive rating of 113.52, and seven-time NBA All-Defensive First Teamer Paul would fit that mold as a master communicator.
Yet, there’s the matter the two years and $85.6 million left on Paul’s contract. The Knicks would be committing a ton of salary cap room to one player, a player who, at age 35, could soon begin regressing. Though Paul switched to a plant-based diet, age eventually catches up to the NBA’s best.
Then, there’s Oklahoma City’s asking price. Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson recently floated the possibility of the Knicks sending Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton, Bobby Portis, the Mavericks’ 2021 first-round pick and the Charlotte Hornets 2021 second-round pick for Paul:
This scenario would see the Knicks giving up young talent and valuable draft assets, which isn’t optimal. Knox and Ntilikina are both under 23, and though neither player has developed the way the Knicks would have hoped, it’s possible that Tom Thibodeau and the new-look coaching staff can mine the upside of Knox, Ntilikina, and others who struggled during the Fizdale-Miller Era.
Though Paul would bring impressive credentials to The Garden, his age, his cap hit and having to surrender youthful pieces to the Thunder are concerns.
If you’ve paid attention to my columns, I’ve maintained that going hard after unrestricted free agent Fred VanVleet should be the Knicks’ No. 1 priority. At age 26, VanVleet is young enough to build a lasting rapport with Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and company, and isn’t a two-year rental like Paul.
VanVleet is entering his prime years and has played an increasingly important role for the powerhouse Toronto Raptors. His tenacity and versatility on both ends of the court, his sharpshooting (.412 career field goal percentage, .393 career three-point percentage), and growing playmaking ability (6.6 assists per game during the regular season, 6.9 APG during the playoffs) all point to the kind of player the Knicks can build around.
If the choice is between VanVleet and Paul – the Knicks should go with youthful legs of VanVleet.
Follow Sean Hartnett on Twitter: @HartnettHockey