The Milwaukee Bucks and Chris Paul have been linked to one another early and often this offseason. But the dream of a blockbuster trade is fraught with difficulties.
We’re only a week into the Milwaukee Bucks offseason after they fell to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals and an uncertain offseason has gotten off to a fast and furious start.
With Giannis Antetokounmpo’s future in Milwaukee front and center of every Bucks-related discussion, everything is on the table to improve the organization’s current standing and to win their second NBA championship in franchise history. And that reportedly includes potentially dealing for Chris Paul, which first surfaced last week via Marc Stein of the New York Times.
There may be no more obvious trade candidate this offseason than Paul. The Thunder are seemingly digging into their rebuild in light of head coach Billy Donovan’s departure and are replete with numerous draft picks for the foreseeable future.
After a resurgent season where he was able to stave off injuries and was named an All-Star for the first time since the 2015-16 season, Paul’s trade stock will never be higher than it is right now. And with $84 million owed to him over the next two seasons combined, Paul’s salary is a mighty pill to swallow, but the finish line of such a deal can be seen far off on the horizon.
On the other side, there may be no team that has a greater urgency to further go all-in this offseason than the Bucks. The circumstances are obvious, with Antetokounmpo one year out from free agency and holding the cards with signing his supermax extension this offseason.
While he’s far from the Bucks’ primary initiator on offense, the well-established playoff struggles of Eric Bledsoe have forced the organization to explore an upgrade that is more conducive to lifting up Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and so on in a playoff setting. That comes more than a year after the Bucks and Bledsoe agreed to a four-year, $70 million extension near the end of the 2018-19 regular season.
The shrewd decision of agreeing to a value deal that is not fully guaranteed for the fourth and final year of his contract, and Bledsoe’s extensive playoff failures leave the Bucks with no choice but to put a bow on his time in Milwaukee. And try as they might to find a suitor, the still smoldering embers of Bledsoe’s latest struggles require a lot of window dressing on the Bucks’ part in any trade discussion.
If that wasn’t difficult enough, finding enough salary to build a desirable and theoretical trade package for someone like Paul is incredibly hard to do without eating away further into the Bucks’ foundation. Parting ways with someone like George Hill and his $9.5 million salary for next season is necessary in making a deal work, but leaves the Bucks vacant at the point guard position on their depth chart under this scenario.
But this is the corner the Bucks have backed themselves into following their latest and greatest playoff disappointment in recent memory.
Even at his advanced age and the threat of injury striking him at the worst time, as has happened throughout his career, Paul presents them a solution to their many problems and an engine for when their offense runs on fumes are they were prone to do this season especially.
The parallels to when the Bucks last needed a future Hall of Fame point guard to bring them over the top when they won their only NBA championship in franchise history are straight out of a classic sports movie.
So is Paul’s former protege, Bledsoe, striking out on his own after being under Paul’s shadow during their shared time with the Los Angeles Clippers in hopes of proving himself to be a difference maker for a winning team only to come up short time and again. Now, that same team may look to add the venerable playoff performer in Paul to replace Bledsoe? Well, that’s the icing on the cake.
Milwaukee has spent the last couple of seasons filling around the edges and have gone ahead and pushed their chips towards the middle of the table to varying degrees, believing their foundation would be enough to catapult them to at least a trip to the NBA Finals.
Now they are farther away than they once stood in their pursuit and their long-term future depends on shaking up their core near to the bone and Bledsoe’s playoff vulnerabilities absolutely makes him the most expendable of the Bucks’ cornerstones by a longshot.
The fit and need is so obvious from a Bucks’ perspective and Paul’s departure seems to have been written on the wall. Unlike Occam’s razor, the Bucks’ path to acquiring a potential solution to the current woes requires their biggest all-in move yet and the future of the Bucks franchise depends on it. No pressure.
(UPDATE: The Athletic’s Sam Amick and Eric Nehm reported Wednesday morning that the Bucks “would rather look elsewhere” when it came to the prospect of pulling off a Paul trade this offseason).