When Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in December 2011, the infamous toast Paul gave at Carmelo Anthony's wedding regarding them playing together looked as thought it was just a pipedream. The Knicks had missed their chance, opting to sign Tyson Chandler from the Dallas Mavericks when Paul became too expensive a commodity.
Now, the chance may have arisen again.
With the star Point Guard out of contract at the end of the season, reports coming out of Los Angeles suggest Paul could be ready to walk out on the Clippers. If the stories are to believed, Paul is furious that he is being made the scapegoat for Coach Vinny Del Negro's firing, with claims suggesting it was Paul who wanted Del Negro gone and used his contract situation as leverage in the Clippers' decision making process.
Paul has apparently been purposely slighted by none other than Donald Sterling, the owner of the organisation. When asked by the L.A Times if Del Negro was fired to hold onto Paul, Sterling replied: "I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true. So I'd rather not say anything. But you know, the coach did a really good job. I think he did. And I liked working with him. There are just factors that make life very complicated and very challenging". He then went on to say "This is a players' league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win, you have to make the players happy."
Sterling couldn't have been anymore direct if he'd shot Del Negro from a cannon with 'Blame Paul' draped around him. Del Negro has also stated that Paul is the reason he was removed, which came as a surprise to the Coach as Paul gave no indication of any displeasure during a 56 win season. These allegations have not sat well with Paul and his advisors, claiming the Clippers are trying to tarnish their client's reputation so they can get him on the cheap when contract negotiations begin.
The timing could hardly be worse, with Paul set to become the hottest free agent when the market opens this summer. All signs pointed to Paul remaining in Los Angeles, with a strong core group of players who are still developing together. They had a strong season which culminated in their defeat to Memphis in the first round of the Playoffs. This was considered an under-achievement but this is a young group that is only going to improve as time goes on. Paul was expected to be a big part of that, but this situation has left his future in serious doubt.
The Clippers are still in the strongest position, at least financially, to re-sign Paul. They can offer him a five-year $108 million deal, more than any other team, under the new collective bargaining agreement. This may not have any effect on his decision as Paul has already made a significant amount of money in his career and stands to make a lot more. What is $20 million to a man who's earned close to $200 million in salaries and endorsements so far in his career. If Paul isn't happy with the situation, then money won't stand in the way of him leaving.
This news will no doubt have the New York fans and media salivating at the thought of Chris Paul playing alongside Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks. However, the chances of Paul landing in New York are slim at best. First, Paul would have to state that the only place he wants to play is in New York. Therefore, the Clippers would have no alternative than to enter sign-and-trade discussions with the Knicks. Better to get something for one of your best assets than let him walk away for nothing. Paul is unlikely to do this, mainly due to the number of contenders that will be interested in his services should he decide to depart the Clippers.
Then there is the matter of Paul's salary. £18.7 million on an already bloated Knicks payroll would simply be too much, even for the highest grossing team in the NBA. The Knicks already have $77.5 million committed to players under contract next season. When you consider the cap is set to be fixed at around the $57 million mark, the Knicks options are severely limited, considering the $57 million takes up the contracts of Anthony, Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire. If a deal could be struck, it would have to include Raymond Felton ($3.9m) and the uninsured, ludicrous contract that the Knicks gave to Amar'e Stoudemire ($21.7m). There's no way the Clippers would want to do a deal involving the ageing, injury-prone forward when they already have Blake Griffin, the face of the franchise, at the position. They could put a package together surrounding Tyson Chandler, but that would be a foolish thing to do on the Knicks part as parting with the former Defensive Player of the Year will leave a huge hole in their interior. Any deal would also have to include Iman Shumpert, who has emerged as one of the most gifted perimeter defenders in the entire league. The Knicks would be reluctant to part with Shumpert, however given Paul's talent it would be a sacrifice worth making, at least in the short-term.
The Knicks could use the possibility of a multiple-team trade, but this could become even more complicated and difficult to complete. There's no doubt Paul, who averaged 16.9 points and 9.7 assists this season, would be a significant upgrade over Felton, despite the latter's improvement this season. He would also be another star-name in the media capital of the World. As much as the Knicks could do with another genuine star, they should take how they handled the Carmelo situation into account when going after Paul, which they inevitably will do. The Knicks traded all their players of quality to get Carmelo, leaving him with a poor team to play with. The Knicks have taken some time building a contender and if they lose a large amount of their roster acquiring Paul then they could spent another season getting the right pieces in place, by that time Carmelo could want to move on if he feels things aren't progressing fast enough in New York.
So, the chances are slim that Paul ends up in New York. Had the Knicks not given Stoudemire that ridiculous 5 year $100 million, uninsured contract, then they might have had a shot at him. Pairing Paul and Anthony together with Chandler, J.R Smith and company would have given the Knicks an outstanding opportunity winning an NBA Championship. Alas, this is not the case. Any General Manager taking on Stoudemire's contract cannot possibly like his job very much.
One place that Paul has a better chance of ending up is in Atlanta with the Hawks. They have made some serious moves clearing cap-space in the last two seasons which has left them primed for a run at Paul and Dwight Howard this off-season. While Howard has been less than receptive to the notion of playing in his hometown, Paul has stated on numerous occasions of his love for the city. Whether Howard would change his mind if Paul signed with the Hawks or not remains to be seen. It is an extremely intriguing prospect for all parties concerned.
It is clear that Paul has all the leverage between himself and the Clippers. The Clippers traded for Paul assuming he would sign a long-term deal with the team. Now it appears those chances have decreased significantly. It would be a crushing blow to the franchise that has just started to turn things round after years of being the laughing stock of the NBA. Losing Paul would also cast doubt over the long-term future of Blake Griffin. The Power-Forward recently signed a five-year, $95 million deal but losing Paul could cause Griffin to seek a trade. Griffin will undoubtedly be at the forefront of the Clippers efforts to try and retain Paul, given the chemistry they have on the court. 'Lob City' has enriched the NBA since Paul's arrival, making the Clippers fashionable for perhaps the first time in their history. Griffin and other senior members of the roster (Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler) will have to smooth over any animosity that may be present with Paul and the Clippers ownership to ensure the facilitator of their offense remains in Los Angeles.
If things aren't sorted, and quickly, Paul will be available for the highest bidder. It would shake the Clippers' franchise to it's foundation. Losing their All-Star Point Guard who they were counting on to change the way people thought about the Clippers, would be nothing short of cataclysmic.
The Knicks will have to make sure they aren't watching on while Paul slips through their fingers. It would be one of the great coups of all-time if they could pull it off.
Chances are slim, but that's never bothered them before.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_