Imagine, if you will, a world where long suffering, diehard fans are largely prohibited from seeing their favorite sports team in person for over a year because of an airborne pandemic. And during that year, that team blossoms from the worst in the NBA to one of its very very best... but then, right when we’re allowed to cheer that wonderful team in person, poof!... it morphs back into that terrible, no-good awful team again?
Well, that’s exactly what John Hollinger wants. And that team is the Phoenix Suns.
Before the pandemic started, the Suns were winning 40% of their games (26-39), averaging over 15,000 fans in attendance. During this pandemic, they are winning 75% of their games (43-14), averaging less than 3,000 due to health and safety protocols. They went from 12th in the conference before the pandemic to 2nd in the conference with an 18-8 home record.
The Phoenix Suns Arena probably won’t be full again until next season.
And that’s just when Hollinger wants to see the Suns turn back into that crap-bag team again.
Yes, that John Hollinger. The same guy who coined the nickname Goran Tragic in 2009 when he called our little Slovenian the worst player in the NBA. The same guy who constantly predicted doom for the Suns in Nash’s late years, the same guy who made joke after joke at the Suns expense for the past decade, is now hoping that Chris Paul leaves the Suns at his earliest opportunity this summer.
Go make a voodoo doll of some other team, Mr. Hollinger. Leave us be.
Could Chris Paul be this year’s Gordon Hayward?— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) April 5, 2021
He would have suitors if he walked away from his player option in favor of a longer deal, @johnhollinger writes, including:
Hollinger thinks that Chris Paul could do this summer what Gordon Hayward did last summer, declining a huge player option — Paul has a player option for $44 million for the 2021-22 season — to become an unrestricted free agent and sign with any team he wants.
Hayward used that to sign for 4 years, $120 million with the Charlotte Hornets ($30 million per year) in lieu of 1 more year at $35 million in Boston.
Hollinger says that since Jrue Holiday signed a four-year extension with the Bucks, now Chris Paul is the hottest free agent on the market this summer if he opts out. He says that contenders like the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat have cap space to entice Paul to leave the Suns after just one year in The Valley.
No matter what happens in the playoffs this year, whether the Suns lose in the first round or win a championship, the facts are true that Chris Paul is not a player you would call loyal to any one franchise. He’s been an All-Star for four different franchises (New Orleans, LA Clippers, Oklahoma City and Phoenix), orchestrated his own trades away from at least two of them (New Orleans, Oklahoma City, possibly LA) and now has a two-year run as a guy who can lift an otherwise lottery-level team to near-contender status in a single season.
The facts are also true that the Suns are not a team to sign someone any earlier than they absolutely have to, even if it means losing that player to free agency. The Suns and Chris Paul are allowed to negotiate an extension as long as two years right now*, one that would keep him in Phoenix for up to three more years through his age-38 season. But right now, I can imagine Chris Paul’s camp wanting the super-max while the Suns would prefer a middling discount because he will be 37 and 38. years old in those years.
*Note: Paul, at age 36, can sign a deal through his age-38 year but no further, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement his own NBPA negotiated almost a decade ago.
Here are Paul’s options.
He could theoretically sign with the Mavericks, who have up to $35 million in cap space this summer, to join Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. That’s probably about $110 million for three years if Dallas wants him bad. Or he could theoretically sign with the Miami Heat for about 10% less than that. The Knicks and even the Pelicans could generate that much space, or more. And they all need point guards. Bottom line: Paul will have options. Lots of them.
In an extension with the Suns, he could make $44 million in year one alone, needing only $25 million per year the last two years to top those best offers elsewhere. If I’m Phoenix, I’d like to do that right now, but even then it’s not quite that simple. More on that below.
But if I’m Chris Paul, I’d like to guarantee more than $25 million per year those last two years. Heck, Steven Adams is making that much in his own extension with the Pelicans. Surely, Paul sees himself as more impactful than Steven Adams.
And alternate version is that the Suns and Paul mutually agree to have Paul turn down the player option and re-sign him to whatever larger number they want, since the Suns have Paul’s ‘Bird Rights’ to exceed the cap to keep their player.
Then there’s the issue of his teammates in Phoenix. In 2022-23, the first year of a theoretical extension for Paul, the Suns will also have Devin Booker at the height of his powers making almost $34 million, as well as Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges likely earning $20-30 million apiece in the first year of their rookie extensions. The Suns simply cannot be paying $120 million to just four players, can they? Heck, if Paul gets his way and makes $40 million that year, and Ayton and Bridges play their way to max money too, that could be over $130 million for the four players. Booker and Bridges would be 26 years old. Ayton 24. Paul... 38.
So I can see why the Suns would want to wait a bit on committing to big money for Chris Paul in 2022-23.
And I can see why Chris Paul would want to see what’s out there this summer for a commitment beyond 2022.
After playing the way he’s played this year, at All-Star and possibly All-NBA level, I imagine Chris Paul will almost certainly tell the Suns he’s turning down his 2021-22 player option to become a free agent this summer.
But until then, let’s focus on THIS SEASON.
The Suns are 35-14. Second-best team in the league. Actually favored to win at least one playoff series. Poised for what could be a long playoff run.
Let’s enjoy the here and now. And then worry about the summer in the summer.