Pelicans & NBA Basketball

Heat speculation turns from Westbrook chase to Chris Paul

If it isn't one thing in NBA free agency, it's another. Or, more to the point for the Miami Heat, another veteran point guard who has come to market.

Immediately after Chris Paul was dealt Thursday from the Houston Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook, the speculation about the Heat's offseason makeover turned from Westbrook to Paul.

While both Paul and Westbrook earn identical salaries over the next three seasons – $38.5 million next season, $41.4 million in 2020-21 and $44.2 million in 2021-22 – Westbrook has an additional season on his deal at $47 million for 2022-23.

While a move for Paul would avoid that extra season, it also would come for a player who, at 34, is three years older than Westbrook, with a history of injuries in recent years.

As with Westbrook, Paul would appear to make little sense for the Thunder, who are rebuilding in the wake of the recent trade of Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Thunder were heavily engaged with the Heat during the Westbrook negotiations, but could not extract the haul of prospects sought.

A Paul trade by the Thunder likely would be with an expectation of longer-term salary cap relief, something the Heat can help achieve, able to put contracts such as Goran Dragic ($19.2 million), James Johnson ($15.3 million), Dion Waiters ($12.1 million) and Meyers Leonard ($11.3 million) into play, all expiring within two seasons, one year earlier than Paul's contract.

In exchange for taking on Paul's onerous contract, it is possible the Heat could get much needed draft-pick relief. The Thunder already own the Heat's 2021 unprotected first-round pick as well as the Heat's 2023 lottery protected first-round selection. Both picks were forwarded by the Clippers in the George trade.

There also is the possibility of the Heat being able to offload extra salary in a Paul trade, which could ease their 2019-20 position against the hard salary cap, which was put into place with the Heat acquiring Butler from the 76ers in a sign-and-trade transaction.

As with the Heat talks with the Thunder regarding Westbrook, Oklahoma City might need to work with a third team on a Paul trade, as it seeks to alleviate luxury-tax concerns.

A Paul-Butler backcourt actually might be a more serviceable proposition than a Westbrook-Butler backcourt, because of Paul's superior 3-point shooting and ability to space the floor. Paul also during his two seasons in Houston displayed a willingness to move off the ball in deference to James Harden.

Paul can be dealt immediately, provided he is not aggregated in a trade with another Thunder player. Otherwise, he could not be dealt for 60 days from the completion of his trade to Oklahoma City. Even that time-frame could be serviceable, with the Heat not opening training camp until the last week of September.

Of greatest concern in a Heat-Paul permutation would be long-term salary-cap impact. By allowing the contracts of Dragic, Leonard, Waiters, Johnson and even Kelly Olynyk to expire, the Heat could be major players in 2021 free agency, a class that could include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Bradley Beal, LeBron James, CJ McCollum, Blake Griffin, Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley.

With Butler and Paul on the books, it would require a trade for the Heat to inject themselves into that mix. Paul also will be 36 that season, Dwyane Wade's age when he began his retirement tour this past season.

And then there is the jersey issue, with Paul known as CP3, a number that assuredly no longer will be in circulation for the Heat.

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