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Lakers interested in signing Chris Paul in free agency

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Chris Paul may have just beaten the Lakers in the NBA playoffs, but he could finally join the team in free agency this summer, according to the latest reports.

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Graphic via Kendrew Abueg / Silver Screen and Roll

It’s hard to remember now given the way the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs went, but there have been multiple times throughout the years when Lakers fans didn’t hate Chris Paul. The first was when the team’s trade for him was infamously vetoed by the NBA in 2011, something Paul said angered him too at the time (NBA stars, they’re just like us!). The next time was when there were scattered rumors last summer that the Lakers would try to trade for Paul, at least prior to their deal for a different Oklahoma City Thunder point guard.

But after a hard-fought first-round playoff series in which Paul’s whining and physical chicanery rubbed fans — and the Lakers themselves — the wrong way, there has not been a lot of cheering for Paul and his Phoenix Suns on this website. However, that may all change next season, if the latest rumors of the Lakers’ interest in uniting Paul with the best man in his wedding, LeBron James, come to pass.

And no, I’m not talking about the latest Magic Johnson tweet...

...because according to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, the Lakers actually do have Paul on their list of targets for this summer:

According to sources, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers have been on the hunt for veteran point guard, and Paul is on the list... For Paul to join forces with James for the first time in their careers, it would likely take a sign-and-trade with the Suns. The most the over-the-cap Lakers can offer Paul without a sign-and-trade is a $9.5 million taxpayer midlevel exception. The attraction of chasing his first championship with James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers could be an appealing option for Paul to ponder. Keep in mind that Paul, a former LA Clippers star, still lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids.

There are technically other ways the Lakers could chase Paul, such as using the methods of rampant cost-cutting my colleague Christian Rivas described in this story on how the team could free up around $20 million in space to sign Lonzo Ball. That may not be enough for Paul, though, who has a player option worth $44 million next season. But hey, he wouldn’t be the first veteran Phoenix Suns All-Star point guard to leave the team for greener pastures in Los Angeles!

Still, jokes aside, getting Paul in a Lakers uniform, whether in a sign-and-trade or in free agency, wouldn’t be easy. Former NBA executive Bobby Marks broke down Paul’s complicated contract situation for ESPN ($$$), and here are the most important details:

Now entering the offseason, Paul, 36, has a decision to make on his $44.2 million player option. He can opt in to his contract by Aug. 1 and sign an extension with the Suns once the moratorium is lifted on Aug. 6. Because of the Over 38 rule, Paul can only extend his contract for a maximum of two years. There are no restrictions on how much the starting salary in the first year of the extension can decline. For example, the Suns can extend him for two years and $70 million, with a cap hit of $35 million in 2022-23.

...

What will transpire from now until Aug. 1 is that Paul’s representatives from Creative Artists Agency and the Suns’ front office will converse on what the future holds. A compromise from both sides would be for Paul to decline his $44.2 million option but sign a new, three-year, $105 million contract on Aug. 6.

So basically, no matter how you slice it, Paul would almost certainly have to take a significant, significant paycut on what he could make otherwise if he wants to wear purple and gold next season. The tantalizing basketball prospect of what a team with him, James and Anthony Davis could look like aside, would he really pass up that much money to join the organization that he just beat in the first round of the playoffs? Maybe, but it seems somewhat unlikely at this point, especially given that Paul, the president of the players’ union, argued to make such big money extensions possible for players of his age in the newest CBA.

More than likely, this is at least a bit of Paul’s camp trying to scare notorious cheapskate and Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver into paying up to keep this NBA Finals core together.

But who knows? Maybe Paul just really, really wants a ring, and maybe for him the real max contract is the friends you made along the way. All I know for now is that if this comes to fruition... a lot of us are going to have to delete a lot of tweets.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.