Oklahoma City’s discussions to move nine-time All-Star guard Chris Paul to a new destination are parked and an increasing expectation exists that he will start the season with the Thunder, league sources tell ESPN.
Oklahoma City has been working with Paul and his representatives on finding a trade, but nothing is materializing so deep into summer free agency, sources said. Both sides believe there are benefits to Paul, 34, playing out the year with the Thunder. For now, there’s a belief that there could be more success exploring trade scenarios again after Dec. 15 — or even the completion of the 2019-20 season, league sources said.
The market expands on Dec. 15, when players who signed offseason free agent deals can become eligible to be included in trade packages.
Because of the Houston-Oklahoma City trade coming so late in free agency — coupled with three years, $124 million left on Paul’s contract — there are no contenders that have the cap space or roster structure to incorporate parameters of a deal for Paul. The Thunder made the trade with Houston to accommodate Russell Westbrook’s wishes, but ensuing talks with Paul and his representatives found two sides sharing a belief that a season together could be beneficial to both, sources said.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti welcomes the idea of Paul playing for his franchise this season, and Paul has warmed to the idea of the Thunder as a landing spot for the year based on the organization and a competitive talent-level. The Thunder don’t have a Western Conference championship contender, but they do have a core with Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander that will not be participating in the NBA’s annual race to the bottom. It promises to be a competitive environment for Paul to play the season.
Paul had a positive experience in Oklahoma City in the 2005-06 season, when his New Orleans team was relocated there because of Hurricane Katrina.
For now, Oklahoma City doesn’t feel a need to surrender draft compensation to unload Paul’s contract, sources said. They want to be competitive and believe that Paul can serve as a mentor to Gilgeous-Alexander, a second-year guard who’s considered the franchise’s future playmaker.
The Thunder traded Westbrook to the Rockets for Paul, two future first-round picks and two picks swaps.
Oklahoma City has gathered eight future first-round picks in the Paul George and Westbrook trades since the start of free agency, including Miami’s 2021 and 2023 first-rounders via the Clippers. Miami’s 2021 pick is unprotected. The Thunder could have as many as 15 first-round picks between the 2020 and 2026 NBA Drafts.
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