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The Chris Paul Butterfly Effect

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Could a trade for Chris Paul encourage free agents to flock to Phoenix?

Sacramento Kings v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

We’ve seen it before. A player joins a new team and, due to said player’s reputation or skill set, others follow. You don’t have to look much further than Kawhi Leonard joining the Los Angeles Clippers last season. Behind the scenes the Clippers front office ensured that Paul George would join the roster as well, thus fortifying Leonard’s arrival to the City of Angels. Leo and Geo was born.

Rumors pertaining to the Phoenix Suns’ probable acquisition of 14-year NBA point guard Chris Paul are spreading like wildfire throughout the Suns community. The excitement of landing a big name for the first time since Steve Nash (and via trade for the first time since Charles Barkley) is enough to revitalize a fan base desperate for winning.

You don’t want to count your chickens before they hatch. Bill Simmons stated on his podcast that he believes, “Chris Paul will stay in OKC,” although sources closer to the situation state otherwise. We’ve been down Rumorville Boulevard in the past. Once upon a time the Suns placed a LaMarcus Aldridge banner in downtown Phoenix. He signed with San Antonio days later.

But let’s count chickens.

The possibility of CP3 joining the Suns roster brings with it exciting opportunities in free agency. Could his addition draw those looking for teams this off-season to turn their eyes towards Phoenix? If so, who would see the Suns jump to the top of their list?


Danilo Gallinari

Here is the layup answer to those questions.

Gallinari, who was part of the trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers, had a nice rapport with CP3 this past season. The duo played a total of 67 games together and posted a respectable 40-27. The 6’10” wing enters free agency coming off of an impressive season with the Thunder where he averaged 18.7 points-per-game on 40.5% 3PT shooting (7.1 attempts per game) and 5.2 rebounds-per-game.

Chris Paul informed reporters during this past season’s All-Star game festivities that, “Gallo? That’s my man. Me and Gallo really got close this season.”...”We sit next to each other on the bus. We’re the only two on the team that’s 30 years old or older.”... “At this point in our careers, we can appreciate each other.”

The feeling is mutual.

Ah, that’s love. And it with it may come a “hometown discount” of sorts. The 32-year-old made $22.6 million last season with OKC. Knowing that the cap will essentially be flat entering the 2020-21 and that Danilo will be a hot target, the Suns may be able to entice a lower number for Gallinari, offering a chance to continue to play with CP3.

Paul, Booker, Bridges, Gallinari, Ayton. Feel free to drool.


Austin Rivers

Remember this guy? The Suns had him for three seconds as a part of the Kelly Oubre trade with Washington in 2018. He didn’t want to be in Phoenix and he made that known, stating, “I don’t want to be part of a team — no disrespect — obviously they’re trying to find themselves.”

Ouch.

The Suns obliged and waived him on December 18, 2018.

He is currently a member of the Houston Rockets, a team in turmoil and on the verge of a rebuild. Oh no, Rivers won’t like that! He, “want[s] to be in the playoffs. I want to compete for something.”

Entering the 2020-21 season, Rivers has the ability to exercise his player option of $2.3 million with the Rockets. Or he can walk. He stated on The Ringer’s Real Ones podcast that, “you owe it to yourself to at least see the best situation”.

Maybe he sees Phoenix in a different light these days. Guess what Austin, we’ve found ourselves.

Rivers, at 28 years-old and potentially entering his prime, is an experienced combo guard coming off the bench. Son of Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers, he has spent his entire career (minus the ‘17-’18 season) as a backup, contributing primarily as a two-guard coming off the bench. He is an adequate defender who utilizes his quickness to be effective.

The Suns could definitely use some consistent offensive firepower from the 2 to spell Booker. Rivers can score and recently showed off his offensive skill set in the Bubble.

River is very familiar with CP3 as well. Teammates in both Los Angeles and Houston, the two have played 212 games together, which comes in at #8 on Paul’s ‘all-time-number-of-guys-played-with’ list.

The two do have a rocky history, however. Rumors in January of 2018 were that Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets confronted Los Angeles Clippers after a CP3’s return to the Staples Center. During the game Austin Rivers, sidelined with an Achilles injury, was yapping at the Rockets, Blake Griffin was spiking balls off of Eric Gordon, and hijinks ensued.

It appears that the air has been cleared between the two, with Rivers addressing co-existing with Chris Paul in an interview with The Houston Chronicle following his signing with Houston in 2018. “I have no problems with Chris, as you guys will see,” Rivers said. “Obviously, if I had a problem with Chris, I wouldn’t be here. Chris has a huge input on this team as he should. He’s a Hall of Fame point guard. If that was that serious, I wouldn’t be here. That will show you that’s not real.”

If the dust has truly settled, if Chris Paul doesn’t believe that Austin Rivers is an annoying coaches’ boy with a loud mouth, then it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that he is a target to solidify the Suns bench.

Much akin to Paul, Rivers found his time in New Orleans under Monty Williams beneficial. He told Jonathan Feigen, “One thing I will say is Monty really taught me to be an elite defender. I’ll tell you, in terms of on-the-ball defense, I think I’m as good as anybody. I really do give credit to Monty. He was so on me about defense, it’s all I thought about.”

Relationship with Monty? Check. Relationship with Chris Paul? Check. Meets a Suns’ need? Check.


Dwayne Bacon

Here is a name that sounds quite delicious. Poor kid. He probably has received similar puns his entire life.

Bacon is entering restricted free agency for the first time in his career following 3 years with the Charlotte Hornets. He is a 6’6” shooting guard from Florida State who has had flashes of potential throughout his short NBA career.

You may recall his 24-point outburst coming off the bench against the Suns this past January.

The kid sizzled that night (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it).

Shortly thereafter the Hornets sent him the the G League. What? Why? It must be because the Hornets’ record at the time was projecting towards the playoffs and they were over rostered. Oh. They were 18-36 at the time they did it? Well he must need development, he’ll need to work on his scorin-

Something isn’t right, right?

Visit Hornets Reddit and you’ll find your answers. u/gman9424 wrote, “The team really put a lot of stock in his third year by giving him the start at the beginning of the season and throwing him into almost all the big time promotional material...I know that the growth that Devonte showed this season probably hastened the demotion from the starting lineup, but he also played himself out of any time on the floor. He is a tremendous athlete without terrible decision making ie., driving into traffic without a plan, putting up highly contested shots. His shooting splits are just garbage...The only difference is that he is a step above physically from the competition so he can dominate. The defensive side of his game isn’t much better. I really don’t see a future with him on the team.”

Well that is quite the picture, isn’t it. It sounds like fans lost faith in him. As did the coaching staff.

His qualifying offer is $2 million and it is clear that Bacon will be looking to grow with another franchise rather than return to the Spectrum Center. He informed The Charlotte Observer that he needs to “go somewhere else”. Statements like this take leverage away from the player and give it to whoever is hiring.

He is a player who is simply looking for a way out. He’s young enough (25) that he is not looking to cash in yet. He wants a chance to prove that he is worth it and may look for an opportunity.

Bacon doesn’t have stats that jump off the page at you. A career 5.3 points-per-game (11.9 per-36). He shoots 34.5% from deep and 40.3% overall. Assists? 1.0 per-game. Rebounds? 2.3 per-game. But I have faith that be can provide the scoring needed to spell Book. A change of environment may be the answer. He is a low-risk, high-reward opportunity.

So what exactly is the Chris Paul connection to Mr. Bacon? It is simple: both he and CP3 share Steven Huemann as their agent.


Marco Belinelli

Staying in the same vein as addressing the Suns bench shooting guard needs, how about kicking the tires on this wily veteran?

The 2010-11 New Orleans Hornets were point guarded by a 25-year old Chris Paul. He led the league in steals and made the All-NBA 3rd Team. The team finished 46-36, good for the #7 seed in the Western Conference. The starting lineup for that team included Trevor Ariza at small forward, David West at power forward, and Emeka Okafor at center. The starting shooting guard? The Professional himself, Mr. Marco Belinelli.

Belinelli has had quite the career, making stops in San Antonio, New Orleans, Chicago, Golden State, Charlotte, Sacramento, Toronto, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and San Antonio again. Why not add the Valley Boz sticker to the side of the suitcase?

10 years later, could Marco rejoin Chris Paul and live out their glory days in Phoenix? It isn’t uncommon to have retirees come to the Valley of the Sun and never leave.

Strange as it may seem, Belinelli is nearly a year younger than CP3. What they share is a veteran presence that would benefit any locker room.

Marco isn’t washed up completely, right? He is a one dimensional player, relying strictly on shooting to create value. He is a defensive liability, gets screen easily, and gets lost chasing shooters around the court.

If the Suns believe that the Carter/Cam Payne duo can be effective enough defensively, the addition of Marco to provide offense isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The price could be right to bring him in on a veteran minimum.


Nerlens Noel

There is another unrestricted free agent who played with Chris Paul in OKC who may find a home in Phoenix. Nerlens Noel, former #6 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, had a resurgence with the Thunder following CP3’s arrival. His scoring increased by 66%, his field goal percentage increased by 10 points, and his time on the court increased by 4.8 minutes per game.

A player who signed a 1-year league minimum contract showed signs of productivity and promise. He won’t make the All-Star team, but Noel is a serviceable backup center. Knowing that Aron Baynes will be packing his bags for richer pastures, the need to fill the backup 5 spot is present.

Paul and Noel displayed cohesive chemistry while wearing the sunset and thunder blue. The Tweet may be Spanish, but the highlights speak for themselves.

Chris Paul made it a point to create rapport with Noel, informing him that, “I have a unique gift to get big guys the ball. I told him screen for me and I’ll get it to you. It’s been effortless. Nerlens is a guy that he’s so selfless, he does whatever the team needs him to do night in and night out. It’s nice to reward him.”

When I hear this quote from Chris, fireworks begin exploding in my head. I think of the potential he and Deandre Ayton will have playing together.

Noel doesn’t come without his challenges. He is a foul-heavy player, averaging 5.3 per-36 this past season. This displays a lack of defensive discipline, lack of defensive IQ, or both. If Ayton gets into early foul trouble and Noel must relieve him, the pace of play slows and the opposition lives on the line. Never a fun night.

The injuries he has suffered throughout his career is a risk as well. He tore his left ACL in college (which resulted in a missed rookie season). Tendinitis in his right knee. Inflamed plica above his left knee. Whatever that is. Needless to say, his legs have had their issues.

Overall he is a good fit who may want to see his career continue with CP3. What could hurt that chance? Rich Paul and Klutch and his relationship with Robert Sarver.


Jakob Poeltl

Another interesting option at the center position is another one of Steven Huemann’s clients, Jakob Poeltl. SLAMOnline.com place Poeltl is their “High Ceiling Rotation Piece” tier in a recent free-agent ranking article. Again, with Aron Baynes entering free agency, it will interesting to see how the Suns address his absence (please don’t tell me it is via Frank Kaminsky).

The Austrian born player came to San Antonio with DeMar DeRozan in 2018 for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. He is entering his 5th year in the league and is still a project.

HIs shooting leaves plenty to be desired.

He took 20 shot attempts last season in the 10-tot16 foot range, hitting 12. That accounted for 7.5% of his total shot attempts. He lives in the paint and is efficient, shooting 62.6% inside of 10 feet. A center who can stretch the floor and create space he is not.

What Poeltl does do well is move without the ball. Jakob brings the ability to set hard screens, ending last season 14th in the league with 235 screen assists. Per B-Ball Index, his Movement Attack Rate (The percentage of half court, non misc. and putback possessions that a player derived from off-screen possessions and cuts) is 46%, good from an A grade and in the 96%tile in the league.

His off ball movement advanced metrics are why many believe he is a valuable asset. Perahps “out-of-the-Suns-price-range” valuable. Poeltl enters restricted free agency with a $5 million qualifying offer. Whatever the Suns offer above that can be matched by San Antonio.

Can Huemann pull the strings to ensure that one client takes care of another? Although a bench player, Poeltl would benefit from having Chris Paul for the same reasons Nerlens Noel did: he goes out of his way to develop big men. I’m not saying that the 7’1” kid from Utah is the next Bake Griffin or Deandre Jordan, but having CP3 as your distributor wouldn’t hurt.


This all becomes a moot point if the Thunder choose not to follow through with a trade that sends Chris Paul to Phoenix.

If the deal does come to fruition expect the Suns to be active in free-agency. The choice will be to either fortify the power forward position or find a serviceable guard that will allow CP3 to manage his minutes accordingly. He’s not getting any younger.

He was extremely effective last year in OKC’s three-guard lineup and I feel that is the best approach to allow Paul to be successful. As much as I don’t like the man, the thought of Austin Rivers allows the Suns extend Paul’s durability.

Step 1: Trade for Chris Paul.

Step 2: Come back here and see if I was right on anything.