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The case against the Suns trading for Chris Paul

CP3 is the type of name that excites a fan base, but is the risk of an aging and expensive point guard the answer?

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Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

There is always “that guy.” You know him well, don’t you? Something favorable happens and he has to remind you that it isn’t as good as it seems.

Case in point: I’m an avid Notre Dame fan who was reveling in the upset victory of No. 1-ranked Clemson this past Saturday when “that guy” dropped me a text. He proceeded to remind me that, even though this was the first time Notre Dame had defeated the No. 1 team in the country since 1993, that it wasn’t valid due to Trevor Lawrence and three key defenders missing from the Tigers. C’mon man. Let the beer settle in my stomach before you try to upset it.

“That guy” can be annoying and brings you down in moments of joy. He is the guy who believes in asterisks and what if’s. No one likes “that guy.” Why? Because, as he is playing devil’s advocate, there is some validity in what he says.

When it comes to the Chris-Paul-to-the-Phoenix-Suns conjecture, I’m afraid that I have to play the role of “that guy”. There has been speculation around Suns Twitter for days now, which has allowed for time to weigh the pros and the cons of a potential trade.

I’ll preface everything by saying that I do like the prospect of securing Chris Paul. It is the splash that needs to occur from the organization that shows Devin Booker they are serious about success. It is a move that most likely will propel the Suns into the playoffs for the first time in a decade. It is a transaction that we have desperately desired for years. Myself included.

Chris Paul has the ability to open Deandre Ayton up, provide defensive tenacity that has been missing in Phoenix since, um, ever, and is the president of the Players Association. He is a leader, a mentor, and someone who desires to win. All pros.

But in this case, I’m “that guy.”

I need to consider the cons. If the Suns were to acquire Chris Paul there is no certainty that his age, his health, and his contract would benefit the Suns. Are the Suns willing the leverage the future of the organization for a chance win right now? It may be the transaction that begins the downfall of the Booker Era in Phoenix.

Allow me to play devil’s advocate...

Age and Health

Phoenix is a point guard town. Kevin Johnson. Jason Kidd. Stephon Marbury. Steve Nash. We love superior distributor play. The addition of CP3 would fall in line with the culture of The Valley. An updated arena, a new workout facility, a killer City Edition jersey; everything aligns to make a big move.

An All-Star just this past season, there is no doubt he possesses the cerebral skill set to be an effective player. But is Chris Paul past his physical prime?

If history has shown us anything it is that 35 years-old is a line of demarcation for distributors. Chris Paul has averaged and impressive 9.5 assists-per-game in his career. How many players have averaged more than 9.0 assists-per-game at 35 or older? It has happened five times: Jason Kidd (9.1) in ’09-’10, LeBron James (10.2) this past season, and Steve Nash three times (10.7 in ’11-’12, 11.0 in ’09-’10, and 11.4 in ’10-’11). Compare that to the 14 players who averaged over 9.0 assists-per-game between the age of 30-35 and the fact is Chris Paul may be past his assisting prime.

Remember that Steve Nash was 30 years old when the Suns signed him as a free agent in 2004. He made his final playoff appearance with the Suns in 2010. When that season began, he was 35.

Paul turned the calendar to age 35 this past May 6. Perhaps 35 is the new 27, given the fact that players have access to cryogenic chambers and best-in-class rehabilitation techniques. Still there in no guarantee that his body will hold up. Does his age hinder his ability to consistently be on the court?

He has played for 14 years in the NBA and logged 35,558 career regular season minutes (plus an additional 4,061 playoff minutes), good for 67th all-time. This much time spent on the court will wear you down (unless you are LeBron). The stresses and rigors of so many NBA seasons have caused Paul to break down time and again.

Here is a list of injuries complied by Chris Paul since be broke his right hand in April of 2016:

If you go back further, you find a history of continual nicks and bruises, pulls and strains. He has played in 1,020 of a possible 1,204 regular season games in his career, 321 of 400 since turning 30. Anything is possible in the modern NBA. But there is risk. Plenty of it. You can take the young talent on the team and flip it for the big name, only to have the big name miss time and the team struggle.

The counter to this argument is he does not appear to be slowing down. He averaged 17.6 points-per-game last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder and played in 70 of a possible 72 games for the team. CP3 could benefit from a 2020-21 season that may feature a series-based shortened regular season schedule, allowing for more rest and recovery.

His assist numbers dropped (6.7 per-game, career low) in a system that employed three distributors, which allowed his minutes-per-game (31.5) to be the lowest of his career. If the Suns could mirror this with some Point Book and (insert other effective distributing guard’s name here), he could be effective. But if any additional stress is put on Chris Paul’s engine, expect that motor to seize and your $41.3 million asset to watch from the bench.

His Contract

This brings me to my next point. $41.3 million in 2020-21, $44.2 million in 2021-22. All guaranteed. That is a lotta cheese, as they say. Who says that? Mice and the Love Guru.

The pro is that it is only for two years. The second year of the deal is a player option, and there is no reason why Paul wouldn’t exercise that.

In order to bring that contract in, as Dave King pointed out, you’re giving up something. Heck, you’re giving up more than something, you’re giving up a lot of somethings. Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, draft picks...they’re all on the block in an effort to make this deal occur.

The prospect of a third team may relieve some of the pressures, allowing the Suns to keep some assets.

The simple fact remains that hurts this transaction: you are trading for the player with the second highest contract in the league. Last year he was the 13th oldest player in the league; entering next season he will be in the top 10.

The money isn’t worth it for a player of that age. There other players in the league who are much more cost effective and have the potential to be around long enough to see the next Presidential election.

Leveraging the Future

As stated above, making a move like this, adding a 10-time all-star to the roster, will keep Devin Booker happy and engaged. If CP3 remains healthy it most likely will add wins. Those wins could be enough for a playoff berth. That is the step we have craved for a decade.

The Suns could become the darling of the national media and have a shot to increase their exposure. Other players may chose to forego higher paying contracts to play in the desert within the confines of a culture that breeds winning. If this move goes as it is designed, the benefits are exponential.

But what if it fails? What if CP3 fades and fizzles out, milking the Suns for the last great contract of his career?

The window is closed.

If the Suns trade for Chris Paul and don’t win it’ll be back to the drawing board. Paul will be 37 at the end of his contract. He’ll most likely look to find one last payday with a franchise who still believes.

Much to the pleasure of NBA fan bases throughout the league, a 25 year-old Devin Booker will be tired of losing. He’ll want out. Yes, he’ll have two years left on his deal, but the Suns will be looking to rebuild once again and, like the Queen’s Gambit, use him as the final chess piece to begin the next phase.

It appears that most of us are weary of the deal.

We can all see the pros and the cons and just don’t know if the risk is worth the reward. Is an aging expensive point guard the answer to the Suns playoff problems? Aren’t there younger targets the Suns front office has identified as potential targets? Why can’t we give Ricky Rubio the love he deserves?

We’ll know soon whether James Jones is willing to take that risk. This is the crossroads moment for him. If he navigates this decision correctly, he’ll remain GM for years to come. If it goes south, Sarver will kindly ask him to pack his bags. Culture reset will ensue.

Whether you are for it or against it, no matter what happens, “that guy” will tell you why you are wrong.

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