Philadelphia 76ers: What if Daryl Morey actually traded for Chris Paul?

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

At one time, Chris Paul‘s contract was considered the worst in the NBA.

It all started in 2018, when Paul became eligible for a four-year max contract worth a whopping $160 million; a contract that will expire when he’s 37 years old. You see, Paul had the deal structured in such a way that he could opt-out after his third season and sign another four-year max contract without triggering the NBA’s over-38 rule, which caps off how much older players can earn.

Fun fact: Daryl Morey actually signed CP3 to that “league-worst” contract a few years back. Boy, whatever happened to that guy?

Was Paul smart to work the rules in his favor? Most definitely. As the President of the Players Association, Paul had a vested interest in guaranteeing himself the biggest bag imaginable and has done just that to a staggering degree. But, as these things often go, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, for it doesn’t matter how well-positioned you are to make money in free agency if you’re getting traded to the OKC Thunder along with two first-round picks and two seconds for Russell Westbrook.

Surely this could have defined the final act of CP3’s career, but instead, Wake Forrest’s favorite son turned in a bounce-back season with the Thunder and became a positive trade piece once more. Though a few teams expressed interest in Paul’s services, he was ultimately shipped out to the deserts of Arizona for Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and a 2022 protected first-round pick and promptly vaulted the team from the Lottery to a spot in the NBA Finals.

*sigh* And to think, he could have been a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Would Chris Paul have been a better get for the Philadelphia 76ers than Danny Green?

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After years and years and years of pushing it aside and lauding the emperor’s new clothes, the Philadelphia 76ers’ 2021 playoff run proved once and for all that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons simply can’t coexist on a team without another primary ball handlers to take over games as they “come in for a landing.”

Now granted, even if the Sixers had a certified All-Star scorer as their third star -sorry Tobias Harris – that wouldn’t have singlehandedly fixed all of the team’s issues. They were still severely undermanned in the frontcourt, lacked a consistent sixth man to provide offensive pop when the starters needed a rest, and simply couldn’t overcome a slew of maddening lineup decisions by certified playoff tanker Doc Rivers.

But my goodness, it’s darn hard to watch Chris Paul light it up in Phoenix and not wonder, “what if?”

In 70 games of action, Paul averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game in a little under 31.5 minutes of action a night. On a purely macro, numerical view devoid of any nuance or analysis, those numbers would have ranked third, first, and third on the Sixers respectively.

Needless to say, that’s a ton of production for the price of Al Horford, Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, and a comparable picks package to what the Pheonix Suns surrendered, even if the Sixers’ starting five would have lost an average of 2.6 3 point attempts per game sans Danny Green.

In such a scenario, Simmons would have kicked it inside to play forward – the position his mentor, LeBron James, played during his tenures in Cleveland and Miami – and serve as a less shooty, more passey version of Blake Griffin, Rivers’ former ward in Los Angeles.

Would it have worked? Honestly, it’s impossible to say, but when you think about what is typically expected out of the forward and point guard position, swapping out Green for Paul while shuffling Simmons from the backcourt to the front certainly presents more traditional fits across the board.

One of the reasons why Simmons routinely struggled to play small-ball center in 2020-21 was because he simply doesn’t have the mindset, body, and wherewithal to be a consistent rim defender. Now granted, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Simmons is maybe the best positionless perimeter defender in the NBA, but with his fit next to Howard a spacing killer and neither Mike Scott nor Harris presenting even average defense from the five spot, such a look wasn’t as “death lineup”-y as the looks presented by the Warriors and Cavs of the mid-2010s.

Why, you may ask, is this relevant? Because Simmons’ strengths aren’t really positionally restrictive. He’s played forward, guard, and even center at times during his NBA career and has still proved to be just as effective with the right personnel surrounding him. Assuming he was willing to actually be listed as a forward – which some claim is a bigger bugaboo than others – swapping out Green for Paul would simply force Simmons to cover forwards a little more often than he currently does.

Considering the Sixers already had Matisse Thybulle under contract, losing five inches on the perimeter really isn’t that big of a deal.

What is a big deal? Just how impactful Paul would have been on the Sixers as a playmaker both in place of Simmons and alongside the then-23-year-old.

In the last five minutes of games during the 2020-21 NBA season – known as “clutch time” for those out of the know – Paul took 82.5 percent of his shots from the field unassisted. While that may not seem like a lot, it’s almost a full 20 percentage points higher than anyone on the Sixers. With no true closer in place capable of creating his own shot as a driver on the way to the basket, the Sixers had to overly rely on an injured Embiid in the clutch to disastrous results in the team’s second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, to largely predictable results.

With Paul in place, things would have surely been different. Even if Simmons’ lack of a jump shot would often turn the fourth quarter half-court game into a glorified 5-on-4 contest, having a player like Paul with a decade-plus worth of experience as a floor general would have helped to diversify the team’s offensive attack, ease the burden on both Embiid and Seth Curry, and give the team a proven closer capable of getting points on every drive in one way or another.

While Green was an invaluable fifth starter for the Sixers in 2020-21, both on and off the court, he simply doesn’t provide the same gravitas as Paul, who is a virtual lock to make the Hall of Fame when his playing days are done.

Gosh, no wonder the Sixers reportedly expressed interest in acquiring Paul this offseason but ultimately didn’t push the issue because of CP3’s interest in Pheonix. In hindsight, maybe they should have tried a little harder to get that deal done for a whole lot less than what it would have cost to acquire either James Harden or Kyle Lowry.

Next. 6 teams that should trade for Ben Simmons. dark

Do the Philadelphia 76ers overcome the Atlanta Hawks in Round 2 with Chris Paul in the fray? How about the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals? Does Philadelphia finally get to host another championship parade for the first time since 2018 with a certified “Point God” paired up with Doc Rivers once more? Unfortunately, we will never know, but my goodness, I desperately wish we could find out.