Chris Paul is a transcendent player. To this point he’s putting together a career that would probably make him the second greatest small man to ever play the game. And he was born to run Mike D’Antoni’s system.
Still, with Paul wanting out and the Knicks on his list of preferred destinations, Donnie Walsh needs to be a little bit wary here.
And not only for the reason explained in Dan’s last post, though that’s a very good reason in and of itself. But also because, as great as Paul is now, the Knicks could end up paying an exorbitant price in talent and flexibility for a player that can’t put the Knicks over the top on his own and may be washed up within 5-6 years.
Here are the issues as I see them:
1. Point guards who profile similar to Paul tend to have short careers. Paul dominates the NBA from a very low perch. He’s only 6’0 tall or thereabouts and he plays an intrepid game that relies on other worldly speed and quickness and the ability to take a pounding in the paint. Players of note with similar physical profiles who also liked to play amongst the trees: Isiah Thomas, Calvin Murhpy, Kevin Johnson, Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, Kenny Anderson, Damon Stoudamire. All those guys were washed up by their early 30s.
2. Paul has a degenerative knee condition. Yes he is only 25. But his left knee is much older. Paul suffered a torn meniscus–the cartilage around the knee area that serves as a shock absorber–and underwent arthroscopic surgery last season to have the condition cleaned up. The injury stands to get worse over time, though, and players who suffer from it tend to lose cartilage to the point where their knee ultimately becomes bone-on-bone. To appreciate what that means to a player, think back to Tim Hardaway and Charlie Ward late in their careers when they struggled to even change ends and were literally dragging one leg up and down the court.
3. Would it make the Knicks good enough to win a title? As Dan explained in his post, any Paul trade would deplete the Knicks’ pool of young talent and eat up all the team’s hard earned cap flexibility. If Amar’e and Paul have something like a 5 year window where they’re likely to both remain dominant players (and that’s all I think it’s fair to project that they have), will a team built around those two be good enough during that timeframe to compete for a championship? Especially considering that the Heat’s big 3 will be barnstorming the league during the exact same 5 year period? I’m not so sure…
4. Other great point guards are poised to enter the free agent market over the next two years. If the Knicks pass on Paul, Tommy Dee has sources saying that Tony Parker is almost a lock to be Broadway bound next summer. Parker is no Chris Paul (he’s not really even an ideal fit for SSOL) but he’s a star player who has won 3 championships and was a Finals MVP in 2007. To say that his resume is more impressive than Paul’s in the areas that actually count is an extreme understatement. Parker will be 29 next season and he faces the same longevity concerns that I addressed earlier in the post, but a Parker deal won’t cost the team nearly as much money and he won’t deplete the talent base or jeopardize the Knicks’ long-term cap flexibility.
That said, I think the Knicks would be wisest to pass on Parker as well and, if they do, there may be an even bigger pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Paul is not the only elite PG who has groused recently about his team’s inability to put a championship caliber core around him. Deron Williams has watched the Jazz lose Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver this summer–two winning players who complimented his talents perfectly. They responded by adding Al Jefferson, a productive albeit unproven big man, but I’ll go on record now that even in the best case he won’t be an ideal fit in Jerry Sloan’s pick-and-roll centric sets. No question the Jazz took a step back this summer and it’s very clear that their superstar noticed.
Williams doesn’t carry with him any of the concerns I detailed above vis a vis Paul. He doesn’t have a significant injury history and PGs of his size and strength have played at a high level well into their late 30s (see Kidd, Jason; Jackson, Mark). If the Knicks were able to sign Williams in 2012, he could potentially serve as the foundation for a long run of championship level teams with Gallinari and Randolph as part of a talented and dynamic supporting cast. To me, this would be the best possible outcome by far.
Sometimes an opportunity presents itself that, when viewed in the context of a team’s overall situation and potential alternatives, is just too good to pass up.
But given the position the Knicks are in right now, is casting their lot with Chris Paul one of those opportunities? I’m not so sure.