It's getting serious now. The Rockets and the Spurs aren't playing around - they are going to be aggressive in their pursuit for Chris Paul.
The Rockets are on the books for over 90 million already for the coming season. In order to sign Paul, they're going to need to clear at least another $30 million.
The key players in all this are Ryan Anderson (he has three years left at around $20 million per year), Lou Williams (one year, $7 million), Patrick Beverley (two years at $5 million per year, with the second year being a team option). Other costly salaries include Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon, although their names haven't come up in trade rumors yet. Let's look at some potential trade partners.
Potential partners: Knicks, Hornets, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Jazz
Why he's valuable: Can be a primary or secondary creator, unbelievable defense, great contract
The ideal trade: The Rockets send Beverley to New York for Mindaugas Kuzminskas
The Knicks are going to struggle to find a point guard in free agency, despite what looks to be a tepid market. Beverley could provide a stop gap for two years while Frank Ntilikina develops. The Knicks were interested in Ricky Rubio earlier in the year, and Beveley provides many of the same skills.
In return, the Rockets add another wing who can hit threes and could take Sam Dekker's minutes if he is shipped off in a deal as a sweetener. They'd save $2 million this year and still manage to add a valuable asset.
Potential partners: Kings, Suns, Nets,
Why he's valuable: Opens up the floor, perfect complimentary player
The ideal trade: The Rockets send Anderson to the Kings for Kosta Koufos
The Rockets probably would not want Koufos, as he doesn't provide any rim running value or floor spacing, but the Kings do not have much to offer that isn't part of their young core. Koufos, however, would save the Rockets $11 million this year, which is nothing to be sneezed at.
The Kings would be able to give Harry Giles, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Willy Cauley-Stein more minutes at center, while having someone who can space the floor for De'Aaron Fox, a below-average shooter.
Potential partners: Wizards, Raptors, Sixers
Why he's valuable: Decent expiring contract, runs the second unit offense, shot creator
The ideal trade: Sixers send Nik Stauskas and a second round pick for Lou Williams
It's hard finding a good spot for Lou Williams. He's the perfect role player on a good team, but finding equivilent assets for him, while saving cash is very difficult if the Rockets traded him to the Wizards or even back to the Raptors.
Nik Stauskas is young and he'll be able to hit enough threes to make his way into the rotation. The Sixers in return get someone who can make plays off the bench and create some space for Jahlil Okafor to play in. Jerryd Bayless coming back, however, makes this move a little obselete.
In essence, none of these deal will yield as much as the Rockets hope. It's really difficult to find landing spots for guys who are a little one dimensional in Anderson, Williams and even Gordon if they're interested in trading him. It could really be disappointing if the Rockets make some moves to dump salary and then miss on Paul. They could throw their hat in the ring for Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry or even Blake Griffin if that is the case.
How would Chris Paul fit?
Finding minutes for Paul is no issue. It's likely both Williams and Beverley would have to be moved, which opens up 35 minutes at the point guard spot. James Harden would move back to the two, but he could step in and run the floor when Paul is taking a break.
We know both Paul and Harden are great off the catch, and their spacing won't be an issue. The addition of Paul makes Clint Capela even more deadly in the pick and roll. It also brings in a mid-range threat which, while it's not something Mike D'Antoni wants to run, it'll make the Rockets a little less predictable in the playoffs.
The Rockets could get crazy on offense. There are talks of big-big pick and rolls, but considering how strong both Harden and Paul are, it's not inconceivable that either of them could work as a screener. JR Smith and Kyrie Irving would be scrambling against a small-small pick and roll. Curry would have to chase whichever player he is on around countless dummy screens. Having two of the greatest offensive basketball minds on the same team could work.
Putting two superstars together is rarely seamless. Paul and Harden wouldn't fit as well as Kevin Durant and Steph Curry do, but we've seen Harden take a backseat to Russell Westbrook and Durant before. He's not as selfish as he is perceived to be. If the Rockets don't think it's working after a year, there's still going to be plenty of teams dying to have Paul on their team.