It’s the start of Chris Paul’s lame duck year in New Orleans, so it’s also officially the start of the free agency silly season.
There is one thing that should be absolutely clear about the Chris Paul situation: He’s leaving serious money on the table if he makes any other decision besides to stay in New Orleans. Only New Orleans can offer him a deal with full bird rights under the new CBA. (See link to source below.)
John Hollinger specifically singles out the Knicks [Insider] in minimizing their chances to sign Chris Paul because if the Hornets are convinced that Chris Paul wants to leave, they will certainly trade him to a team that can return more than Chauncey Billups’ expiring deal, Landry Fields, and Toney Douglas. He points to the Clippers as a more realistic trading partner because they have more “assets”.
That line of thinking is flawed however because it assumes that the new CBA, by eliminating a player’s incentive to seek an extend and trade through a lessening of years and dollars available in such deals, puts the owners in control of where they would prefer to send a player when in fact, the opposite is true.
Under the new CBA, players who are part of extend and trade transactions that take place within six months of the start of free agency are eligible for exactly the same years and raises as players signed outright as free agents (their ability to land a max deal is delayed by six months post-trade). While that might lead some players to be less inclined to seek such deals (and instead stay with their current teams), players aren’t robots, and it will not be universally true. That means that Chris Paul could be traded to the Clippers, but the Clippers could only offer him the same years and money as the Knicks. So, sure, the Clippers could offer the Hornets DeAndre Jordan, Eric Gordon and the Taj Mahal for Chris Paul, but Paul has no financial incentive to stay with the Clippers instead of switching over to the Knicks. (Assuming the Knicks have max space. Also, this isn’t just limited to the Knicks by the way. Paul will have every incentive to see what the market will bear as an unrestricted free agent.)
In reality, it is irrelevant that the Clippers have more assets. All that means is that they’d be giving up more value than the Knicks would, just to rent Paul. At the end of his contract, he will have no incentive to sign an extension that would net him the same as a max free agency deal. Thus he would be compelled to test his worth in free-agency.
As much as certain writers and probably NBA owners will hate to admit it, Chris Paul will drive this process.
UPDATE: I also want to clarify how much Paul might lose by choosing the Knicks vs. the Hornets or another team.
If he stays with the Hornets, Paul could get sign a new 5 year deal when his current deal expires, with 7.5% raises. Hollinger calculated the difference between this and a free agent deal with the Knicks to be about $40 million.
If he goes to a team with max cap room (not the Knicks) he could immediately sign a 4 year deal (note, one year in excess of what he could get with New Orleans) at 4.5% raises starting at $17ish million.
If he goes to the Knicks, who Hollinger estimates will have $13.5 million available, he could take that entire $13.5 million, also at 4.5% increases, for 4 years.
So, as Hollinger points out, he’d be leaving a TON of money on the table to leave the Hornets. But that’s true no matter where he goes. If he’s intent on leaving, you should compare what a max team can offer him versus what the Knicks can offer him. He’d be leaving (rough estimate) $14-$16 million on the table over four years to choose the Knicks over another team in free agency.
Source: PDF linked in this Sam Amick article, point 13.