When Chris Paul was stunningly traded to the Thunder this past summer in the deal that sent Russell Westbrook to Houston, the immediate assumption was that Paul wasn't long for Oklahoma City, which suddenly had all the makings of an organization ready to rebuild around young talent and future draft picks.
The Miami Heat rose to the top of the conversation, but no move was made. It looks silly now, but there were some questions as to whether Paul, who comes attached to a massive contract, was still an elite player -- let alone whether there was any chance of him still being elite three seasons down the road when he has a $44.2 million player option.
Paul has proven he's still an elite player now. He should be an All-Star this year. But the contract still looms, particularly that final year in 2021-22. Perhaps if Paul would consider waiving that $44.2 million to become a free agent one season earlier, a trade to a contender would become a more realistic possibility. But Paul, per Sports Illustrated's Rohan Nadkarni, says there's "no chance" of that happening. From Nadkarni:
Paul is not going to make any grand sacrifices to place himself on another superteam. When asked whether he would waive the final year of his contract—a $44.2 million option for 2021–22 that's seen as the biggest obstacle for teams interested in acquiring him—if it meant he could be traded to a championship contender, Paul answers swiftly: "No chance. That's not happening. Nope."
Paul has consistently insisted he's happy with the Thunder, who are the surprise team of the season -- No. 7 in the West and firmly in the playoffs entering play Monday night. It doesn't mean he wouldn't be up for a trade to a contender if the right situation were to present itself, but he's obviously not desperate for it to happen.
Also remember, Paul is the sitting president of the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association). Setting a precedent that aging players should give up money on the back end of their contracts for the benefit of billionaire owners, or even to make maneuvering within the confines of the salary cap a bit easier, would be in direct opposition with the whole point of a labor union.
So there are layers to this situation, and so far, the path of least resistance has led to Paul remaining in OKC. Will that be the case through the Feb. 6 trade deadline? Almost assuredly, though nobody can be sure. I've made the case that the Sixers should be beating OKC's door down trying to trade for Paul, his contract be damned, and I still believe that. Milwaukee could put itself in the championship driver's seat with a Paul deal. But don't bet on it.
Beyond this season, perhaps a summertime deal for Paul is more likely. If he keeps playing this way and remains healthy, there's surely going to be a greater collective faith in his ability to live up to the back end of his contract. But Paul has made it clear: His contract is his contract. He earned that money. And he's not giving a dollar of it up for a chance to compete for a title. He's happy to consider options on his terms. But he's also happy where he's at, even if pretty much no one saw that coming.