Signing Chris Paul may reportedly be “Plan A” for the Lakers in free agency, and the team may be one of the top suitors for his services if the Washington Wizards do indeed buy him out in the wake of their blockbuster trade sending Bradley Beal to the Phoenix Suns, but don’t expect Los Angeles to break the bank to acquire the 39-year-old’s services.
According to Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times, the Lakers do want Paul, but only if he’s willing to accept a veteran’s minimum contract:
The Lakers for sure would have interest in acquiring Chris Paul, but only for the veteran minimum. If he were to take that from the Lakers, it would be a good deal for the Lakers and allow them to retain Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura possibly without hurting their salary cap too much.
Turner’s Times colleague Dan Woike that “maybe (the Lakers would) creep into the mini mid-level exception if necessary” for him, but it’s also not clear they would even need to. For one thing, it’s at least theoretically possible that Paul does not get cut, and that the Wizards either keep him all season or trade him to another team, like the Clippers.
However, if he does get bought out or released by the Wizards there is reason to believe the Lakers wouldn’t have to pay him more than the minimum to join up. For one thing, Paul’s family is still based in Los Angeles, and it’s been pretty clear from the tone and tenor of every media leak about his situation that he would prefer to return closer to them.
Another factor, though, is that the Suns and Wizards have already had to guarantee Paul nearly his entire year’s salary to complete their trade as currently constructed:
Chris Paul’s $30.8M salary now looking likely to get fully guaranteed with the inclusion of Jordan Goodwin and Isaiah Todd.— Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan) June 19, 2023
His guarantee needs to be raised to $27M to facilitate the current trade. Otherwise, they’d have to dip into their $5M TPE to acquire Goodwin and Todd. https://t.co/zQPp8h7zk4
Why is that relevant, you ask? As NBA cap expert Yossi Gozlan notes above, Paul’s salary is either getting fully or almost fully guaranteed to make the money work on this trade, meaning that the Wizards are not in the same position as the Suns were when we originally discussed Paul as a cut candidate (when Phoenix could cut him and only owe him $15.8 million rather than $30.8 million).
Now that Paul’s deal is nearly or almost nearly entirely guaranteed as part of this transaction, the only incentive the Wizards have to buy him out is for him to give back some money and let them save a bit of cash. And given that most buyouts are for almost the entire contract, minus roughly the salary that a player will get from their next team, Paul doesn’t have much incentive to take more than the veteran’s minimum from his next playing home in order to get them to compete. And if he were outright waived, no matter how much he is eventually guaranteed to get this deal over the finish line, there would be offsets in the deal to subtract his next salary from whatever Washington ultimately had to pay. It’s not one-to-one, but for a player who has made $354 million in NBA salary alone over his career so far, it may as well be.
For example, even if he thought he could get, hypothetically, $10 million from another suitor, but the minimum from the Lakers, what reason does Paul have to take the $10 million if it would likely just be factored into and subtracted from his buyout or release anyway, and so he would get just about the same amount of total money in-the-end either way? Long story short, it makes sense that that Lakers — and probably Paul, if he were to join the team — wouldn’t want to spend any of their larger-than-minimum exceptions on him, as that reduces an avenue to make their new, shared roster stronger in free agency using said exceptions to exceed the cap.
So this isn’t really the Lakers being cheap, or saying that they think Paul is only a veteran’s minimum player. Even in his declining, aging state and with his history of playoff choke jobs, he’s still almost certainly worth significantly more than that on the open market. But there is just little reason that I can think of why the Lakers would give it to him, or why Paul would want it, when both sides would get the same player and (roughly) same total earnings either way.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.