The Bucks need CP3 more than CP3 needs the Bucks
This offseason is arguably the most critical one in the history of the Milwaukee Bucks.
The main goal is to keep 2x MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee long-term. That much is obvious. This is his team as long as he is under contract in a Bucks uniform. It will continue if the Bucks front office pulls out all the stops to convince him this franchise is committed to continue winning.
The Bucks have most of the pieces they need in order to keep contending for their first championship in almost 50 years. But who can be their facilitator? Their creator? Their clutch guy? The one who thrives in the big moment?
Enter Chris Paul.
CP3, the 15-year veteran point guard, is resurrecting his career at age 35. This guy can still ball with the best of them.
Paul battled several injuries for a chunk of his tenure in Houston, and appeared to show that his best days were behind him. His scoring sunk to a career low in his last year with the Rockets.
But Oklahoma City’s monster trade for CP3 and a boat load of draft picks in exchange for Russell Westbrook turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Thunder. After averaging 17.6 points per game on about 49 percent shooting and 36.5 percent from downtown, along with 5 boards, nearly 7 assists per game and less than 2.5 turnovers per game, Paul took a “rebuilding” franchise to seven games against his former team in the first round. He nearly stunned the NBA universe.
But the playoffs is where CP3 is a different animal. Granted this year he played six minutes more each game than his regular season average — 37 minutes in the playoffs vs. 31 in the regular season — but he can still turn on the jets. His point total increased to 21.3 on average. His shooting percentage, in particular on 3’s, went up to 37.2, and he corralled two rebounds more than he did in the regular season. Paul is also an excellent free-throw shooter, as he tends to make around 85 to 90 percent of his shots at the stripe every year.
But it’s not all about the stat sheet. CP3 is a mastermind on the floor. His basketball IQ is off the charts. His ability to stabilize the game, space the floor, facilitate the offense, and create and hit his own jump shot is what separates him from most other point guards who have ever been in the NBA. He may be on the back nine of his career, but Paul can still be great in games that matter most. No disrespect to Eric Bledsoe or George Hill, but neither of them have proven they’re capable of what CP3 can do with the lights on bright.
I’ve been writing all of this praise for Paul, but not once yet have I mentioned his contract (how dare I?). Well to nobody’s surprise, his price tag is ridiculously high. So high it’s roughly worth the same as 10 Lamborghini’s. CP3 will be raking in about $41.3 million next season, and has a $44.2 million player option in 2021-22. He’d be out of his mind to decline his player option worth that much.
The Bucks need — huge emphasis on “need” — a player like Paul, so here is the question we’re all wondering: how on Earth can Milwaukee afford Paul? It’s going to be a tall order, yes, but it can be done.
Any trade package for CP3 will require Bledsoe, either Hill or Brook Lopez, and at least a draft pick along with other team assets in it like Ersan Ilyasova and Donte DiVincenzo or Robin Lopez. It’s the only trade deal that makes sense salary wise. Bledsoe is set to make nearly $17 million next year and still has three years left on his deal. Brook Lopez also has three years left on his deal, except he’s making roughly $5 million less. Hill’s contract would be more attractive for the Thunder to take, as the 34-year-old is making just over $9 million next year and only has two years remaining. Ilyasova is on an expiring contract worth $7 million. Robin Lopez has a $5 million player option next year he’d be foolish not to pick up. DiVincenzo is still only 23 and has a lot of potential. And everybody loves draft picks. Do all the math, and the Bucks will likely still be going above the luxury tax.
Is going into the luxury tax necessarily what the Bucks want to do? Probably not. But they need to if they have any chance getting CP3 to the Cream City. He makes a team better wherever he goes. Just imagine what a core of Paul, Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez would look like. Talk about a deadly force of nature. It would be nearly impossible to stop a Paul-Giannis pick-and-roll game. Opposing teams would be forced to take some attention off Giannis because Paul can beat anybody one-on-one. And then on top of that, you have Middleton and Lopez lurking all over the floor. That’s a tough team to beat.
CP3 has proven he can do everything in his Hall of Fame career, and there will be several other teams on the market forming potential trade packages for him assuming the Thunder make him available. Billy Donovan will not be returning to OKC, so it seems like Sam Presti is eyeing a full rebuild for the franchise. No rebuilding organization wants a $40+ million dollar contract on its payroll anyway.
Eating up Paul’s monster contract on Milwaukee’s salary cap is less than ideal for the small-market franchise, but if the front office is actually serious about continuing to be a title contender, it’s a gamble they’re going to have to take. The Bucks need Paul more than Paul needs the Bucks.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Bucks front office will have to go that far to not only keep contending for titles, but ultimately keep Giannis happy in Milwaukee.