As the 2013 NBA Finals come to an end, teams are turning their attention towards free agency. Dwight Howard has made the most headlines regarding his future, but Chris Paul may be the best player that is available this offseason.
Since being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers before the start of the lockout-shortened season, Paul has re-established himself as the best point guard in basketball. He’s turned the Clippers franchise around and made the All-NBA First Team in each year with Los Angeles.
Paul is virtually guaranteed to get a maximum-salary contract, and several teams will look to either sign him or acquire him through a sign-and-trade scenario. Below are the teams with the best chance of landing Paul in the summer.
Los Angeles Clippers
L.A. remains the overwhelming favorite to sign Paul. They can offer him a five-year contract worth almost $108 million, which is approximately $28 million better than any other NBA team can do. The Clippers have another star for Paul to play alongside in Blake Griffin, and the club has had very successful regular seasons in his two years in Los Angeles.
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The Clippers had a first-round playoff exit in 2013 and were swept by the Spurs in the second round of 2012. However, replacing Vinny Del Negro with a head coach that has experienced more success could be enough to erase any worries that Paul has about the team’s future.
The latest rumor involving Dwight Howard claims that he would like to play with Paul. The two have reportedly been in contact about joining forces this summer. A sign-and-trade to give the Clippers both free agents is possible, but highly unlikely. If Howard and Paul want to play together and still sign max contracts, Atlanta may be the only realistic place to do so.
With players like Josh Smith, Devin Harris and Kyle Korver becoming free agents, the Hawks will be able to give two players max contracts. A core of Paul, Howard and Al Horford would rank with the Miami Heat as the best in the NBA. The Hawks don’t seem to be very high on either players' list, but Atlanta is the most likely landing spot for the two All-Stars if they want to become teammates.
Like the Hawks, the Rockets will be looking to land both Howard and Paul. It would be tougher to do for Houston, who doesn’t have as much cap space, but they will, undoubtedly, be able to sign one free agent to a max contract.
The Rockets could be the most attractive destination for Paul if he decides to leave L.A. They have one of the NBA’s best young players in James Harden and showed a lot of improvement last season. Adding Paul to the roster could make them a title contender, giving them the best backcourt in the league. The 28-year-old seems to be happy with the Clippers, but the perception that he got Del Negro fired and Los Angeles's inability to trade for Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers could force Paul to consider signing with Houston.
New York Knicks/Los Angeles Lakers
A year and a half ago, it seemed like Paul would find his way to one of these teams when he finally became a free agent. Now, both teams are longshots, at best, to acquire the point guard. Paul’s No.1 option may be to join Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks, but New York has no cap space and has very little to offer New York in a sign-and-trade. Unless the Lakers use the amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol, they probably won’t be able to make a sign-and-trade for Paul under the rules of the CBA.