By Tommy Rothman
Chris Paul’s free agency grows closer every day as the star point guard will almost certainly opt out of his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers on July 1st and test free agency. Of course, when you are a player of Paul’s caliber, “testing free agency” means “fielding phone calls from 30 general managers, regardless of whether they have cap room or not”. Every Knicks fan has read something or heard something about Chris Paul’s chances of landing in New York. Articles have been written about the cap, Paul’s thoughts on New York, whether we should pursue him, and much more. For clarity’s sake, I will try to touch all the bases here. Where do the Knicks Stand when it comes to Chris Paul?
Section 1: Does he want to play here?
Section 2: Can we get him?
Section 3: What would it take to get him?
Section 4: Should we pursue him?
Section 5: Will Paul be a Knick?
Does Paul Want To Be A Knick?
This is the question we have to start with. Unless Rasheed Wallace breaks in to LAC headquarters and kidnaps Chris Paul, the Knicks can only get CP3 if he wants to play for them. All indications suggest that Paul would be willing to join the Knicks. In fact, it seems likely that he WANTS to be a Knick. First, you have “The Toast” of 2010, in which Paul made a toast at the wedding of Carmelo Anthony (who was then a Nugget) and declared that one day, there would be a superteam in the Big Apple consisting of Paul, Melo, and Amar’e Stoudemire, who had just inked a 5-year deal with New York. This alone, of course, is not solid proof of Paul’s desire to be a Knick. Fortunately, we are just scratching the surface of the evidence suggesting that Paul wants to play his home games in Madison Square Garden. When he demanded a trade from the Hornets in 2011, he instructed his agents to make him a Knick. Right as this news was breaking, the Knicks committed themselves to Tyson Chandler, and burned their amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups (whose option the Knicks had foolishly picked up just a few months earlier). The very same day the Knicks announced their signing of Chandler, they attempted to trade Stoudemire for Paul, and were shot down by the Hornets, who wanted cheap young assets and picks. The Knicks had nothing to trade for Paul, and could not sign him the following year due to their newly completed acquisition of Chandler. Their hands were tied, and Paul ended up in LA. Paul has continued to refuse to rule out New York, and one has to assume that he would still want to be a Knick unless he fell in love with the Clippers. 2 first round exits and a recent report that Paul is “very angry” with the Clippers suggest that he is not committed to staying with the Clippers in any way, shape, or form. So yes, Chris Paul seemingly does want to be a Knick.
Can the Knicks get Paul?
So a megastar point guard wants to be a Knick. So it’s in the bag, right? No. As you may have heard, the Knicks are well over the salary cap, and as you will know if you have been paying attention to this article, we have already used up our amnesty clause. Unless Chris Paul takes the Mid-level exception to sign with us (which is technically possible if he is dying to be a Knick, but which almost definitely would not happen), the Knicks would have to acquire Paul through a sign-and-trade with the Clippers.
What would we have to do to get Paul?
So let’s assume we are going to do a sign-and-trade. There are 2 criteria which the Knicks must meet: they must construct a deal (or multiple deals) which works under the CBA, and they must give the Clippers an offer LA might accept.
The Knicks are currently around $300K under the “apron”, which is a salary limit of roughly 76 million. A team cannot do a sign-and-trade if they would be over the apron once trade is completed. But here is something that other blogs have not been reporting: On July 1, 2013, a new rule will kick in. Any team that acquires a player in a sign-and-trade deal is hard-capped at the apron, and will be unable to use the taxpayer mid-level exception of $3M. This means that in order to use their MLE, the team will have to get so far under the apron that they can afford to offer the non-taxpayer MLE, which is around $5M. The Knicks will want their MLE to add pieces to the roster and/or keep existing pieces who are free agents, such as Chris Copeland.
So basically, the Knicks would have to clear a lot of salary. We are right at the apron as it stands. But if we kept Copeland, JR Smith, and Pablo Prigioni, and then used our first-round draft pick, we would suddenly be about 10 million over the apron. So here is what needs to happen for us to get Paul.
Copeland PROBABLY has to go.
Pablo likely has to go as well, although he is a bit more likely to accept his qualifying offer
JR Smith would probably have to go. However, here is something other blogs have not mentioned: we can include Smith in the CP3 trade. Smith could be included in a sign-and-trade with an outgoing trade value of around 3 million, although he himself would receive about 6 million annually from his new team.
Tyson Chandler would have to go. Unless Glen Grunwald can do some dark magic and somehow trade Amar’e (which isn’t happening), Tyson is needed in the deal to make the salaries match.
Kenyon Martin would potentially have to go, but we could potentially retain him for the minimum.
Unless Paul takes a pretty solid pay cut, we will also probably have to include Raymond Felton, and we would have to convince the Clippers to take on at least one of Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, and Jason Kidd.
That is how it stands from a salary perspective. Now let’s say the Clippers want the guy we select with our first-round pick as well. here is how the offer would potentially shape up
We give: Tyson Chandler, JR Smith, Raymond Felton, our 1st rounder , Kidd,
We get: Chris Paul
If we can do some maneuvering, we can throw in novak or camby as well (potentially getting a 3rd team involved). This means we would have a tad more money to spend. If we can include Novak or Camby, we can keep cope and pablo and kmart and maybe add anothe routside piece, or we can chase somebody like OJ Mayo and maybe keep Pablo and Martin while probably saying goodbye to Cope.
The Clippers would want us to include Iman Shumpert. More on that in the next section.
Should the Knicks pursue Paul?
So, to recap, the gain would be Paul, and the cost would be Chandler, Smith, Felton, Kidd, Novak or Camby, our first rounder, and probably Copeland (and potentially Pablo). If the Clippers want us to include Shumpert, it would free us up to use our MLE more freely, but Shumpert’s potential should make that a deal-breaker for the Knicks.
But let’s say we don’t have to include Iman. That would leave us with a roster of Paul, Shumpert, Melo, Stoudemire (who should not be relied on given his health issues), Martin, and Camby. We could use our MLE on one very solid player (potentially a David West or OJ Mayo), or we could sign a few lesser guys with the MLE split up between them in order to give us some depth.
A lineup of Paul, Shump, Melo, West, and Martin with STAT on the bench and zero depth after that would be interesting. While it gives our team some upside, which we don’t have too much of today, it creates instability and the Knicks would probably be better off keeping their current team, making a few tweaks, and hoping for some better health (especially in the postseason— 4 of the Knicks’ top players were hurt during this year’s playoffs). If we blew up the team and got Paul to put next to Melo, as long as we kept Shump, I would get over it pretty soon and be excited about CP3. But I think the team is better off without Paul unless he wants to take a pretty solid pay cut to facilitate a trade.
Will the Knicks get Paul?
They can. It depends what the front office wants to do. If the Knicks GM is dead-set on bringing CP3 to NY, they can probably make it happen. But it will sacrifice depth and flexibility, and I’m not sure if the Knicks want to do that. Paul could end up with the Knicks one day, especially if he signs a short contract with whoever he picks this time around. But ultimately, it is unlikely that CP3 will be in orange & blue next year— and to be honest, it is probably for the best. Because at the end of the day, these guys are pretty damn good.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!