With the blockbuster news broken by Adrian Wojnarowski immediately after the All-Star game this year, confirming numerous rumors that DeMarcus Cousins would indeed be leaving Sacramento, it has opened the floodgates to a host of new rumors and speculation of player movement.
The most interesting of these rumors involves Clippers star point guard Chris Paul. With Cousins joining up with Anthony Davis in the Big Easy to form a formidable frontcourt, many are speculating that CP3 could return home to New Orleans to form the next NBA big 3 in free agency at the end of this season.
Is this rumor in the realms of possibility? Do the numbers add up? Would it be a good idea to begin with?
To sum it up nicely, yes. It’s entirely possible for the Pelicans to have Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins all on their roster for the 2017-18 season. Their bench would suffer, but if you have the chance to acquire a star player through free agency, you pull the trigger. Even if it means blowing up your bench to free up the cap room, much like Golden State did when signing Durant.
Currently, the NBA cap is set at $94.143 million, with the luxury tax level set at $113.287 million. The New Orleans Pelicans payroll is currently at $101,156,070 without adding Cousins and Casspi to the roster. When losing Buddy Hield’s, Tyreke Evans’ and Langston Galloway’s contracts, and adding Cousins’ and Casspi’s, the Pelican payroll levels out to $100,955,367. This leaves New Orleans with $12 million or so in cap room, for this season.
All that information is irrelevant though when talking about roster changes for the 2017-18 season. As it stands, the NBA’s salary cap is projected to hover around $102 million, with the luxury tax level set at $122 million. Now teams can go over the luxury tax, but they suffer harsh penalties, with owners having to pay a tax for every dollar they are over the cap limit, something that owners are prepared to do if it means team success, increased attendance and ticket sales, and a shot at a title.
The Pelicans now have 10 players with guaranteed contracts heading into next season, 11 if you count Dante Cunningham’s player option. Assuming he accepts the option, the Pelican’s roster payroll would total $86,932,579, leaving them $15 million under the cap and $35 million under the luxury tax threshold.
To simplify this, as of next season, the Pelicans will have $15-$35 million to sign 1-4 players. This is easily enough to acquire CP3, who is currently on a $23 million a year deal, as well as fill their roster with some veterans on cheap contracts to chase the Larry O’Brien trophy.
So, the numbers add up, we know that much, but would it be possible for the Pelicans to lure back their once-heralded franchise point guard in the first place?
The Clippers have a bit more cash to play with, as CP3 has a player option worth $24 million, which he’s expected to decline as to earn more money due to the cap rise. If (Or more likely, when) Paul declines the option, he will be demanding the full 5-year max from the Clippers, projected to be worth $195 million over 5 years. CP3‘s decision will hinge on what he values more: Money vs. Success.
Now, this isn’t to say Chris Paul won’t have success with the LA Clippers if he resigns with them, no way. Since acquiring Paul, the Clippers have consistently finished near the top of the Western conference. Not to mention, Chris Paul is already playing with an All-Star frontcourt in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
But the pros outweigh the cons in this situation. Sure, Paul would be taking a huge pay cut to join up with AD and Boogie, but it would set him up with success for the rest of his career, something he’s been searching for ever since joining the Clippers. Remember, Paul is already 31, and Cousins and Davis are 26 and 23 respectively, so time is unfortunately, running out for CP3. It could also persuade Cousins into resigning with the Pelicans when his contract expires, something he said he wouldn’t do if traded.
Assuming everything pans out, and DeMarcus and AD gel and dominate opposing frontcourts like everyone is expecting, signing Chris Paul this upcoming free agency period would be a fairy tale move for New Orleans. It’s not every day you can sign a former franchise star, a move that would thrust your team into championship contention for the next 5-10 years.