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With February arriving shortly, the NBA is reaching that final stretch before the trade deadline arrives on Feb. 9. With several starting-caliber point guards potentially available, could four teams solve their respective issues in a single transaction? First, start with four premises culled from conversations with multiple NBA sources:
- The Phoenix Suns may be more open to finding a long-term replacement for Chris Paul than people realize.
- The Los Angeles Lakers are looking for more of a fit with LeBron James.
- The Minnesota Timberwolves are unlikely to reinvest in D'Angelo Russell after this season.
- The Charlotte Hornets are open to moving out of Terry Rozier's sizable contract as the team continues to restructure.
What about a four-team trade with Paul to the Lakers, Russell Westbrook to the Hornets, Rozier to the Timberwolves and Russell to the Suns?
Suns Acquire Russell
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After an NBA Finals appearance in 2021, Phoenix finished last season with the best record in the league (64-18). But its title hopes were squashed by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round, and now the franchise is hovering around .500 while trying to play through multiple key injuries. The team is also closing in on a sale from Robert Sarver to Mat Ishbia, which is expected to close ahead of the deadline.
Despite changes at the very top, the team is expected to make more significant changes after the season, but sources say the team has come to terms with the likelihood that Paul is starting to decline (38 years old in May). Even if he can bring it for another postseason, the Suns need to find a long-term replacement.
Paul is owed $60.8 million over the next two seasons, but only $15.8 million is guaranteed. If the team can find a taker that brings back a suitable replacement who can help the team now and into the future, now may be the time to move him. Phoenix can include players like Jae Crowder and Dario Šarić as needed for salary-matching purposes. Shedding payroll could help, given that the team is about $16.4 million over the luxury-tax threshold with $33.3 million in expected penalties.
Russell, who turns 27 in February, has a pre-NBA relationship with three-time All-Star Devin Booker. He's also averaging 17.8 points with 6.2 assists a game while shooting 39.1 percent from three-point range. The Suns could try to issue him an extension (for two additional years) or let the market dictate his price to stay.
Does he fit coach Monty Williams' style? Paul is a true, old-school point guard and staunch defender (at least in his prime). That's not entirely Russell, but he may be the best guard available to the Suns.
Lakers Acquire Paul
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The Lakers are fighting to climb into the top 10 in the Western Conference. While coach Darvin Ham has found a viable role for Westbrook off the bench, the franchise does have concerns about his playoff viability, per multiple sources.
If L.A. moves Westbrook, the team needs to replace his shot creation. Though later in his career, Paul would be an upgrade. He has a strong relationship with James and gives the Lakers financial flexibility with two additional seasons (the last one at $30 million is non-guaranteed). Health is always a concern when a player nears 40, but it might be a risk the team needs to take to have a better chance of postseason success.
Depending on who else comes back in the deal, L.A. may also be able to lower its luxury-tax penalty (approximately $44.2 million) by going from Westbrook's $47.1 million to Paul's $28.4 million. Perhaps the Lakers can get Jae Crowder out of Phoenix in the deal and/or Mason Plumlee/Kelly Oubre Jr. from the Hornets.
The Lakers would need to send draft compensation (starting with a first) to the Hornets for taking on Westbrook's contract. Charlotte may be interested in some of Los Angeles' developing prospects like Austin Reaves, Max Christie and Wenyen Gabriel.
Timberwolves Acquire Rozier
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Minnesota sent out all of its significant draft capital to acquire Rudy Gobert in the summer. Coach Chris Finch and Russell do not appear to be a fit, and with Russell hitting free agency, the team may lose him without significant means to replace him. While the Timberwolves can get to about $20 million in projected cap space in July, that includes parting ways with several players like Taurean Prince, Jordan Nowell, Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell, Nathan Knight, etc.
Rozier is a relatively economical option with the cheapest annual salary of the four named guards. Still, Rozier is a longer commitment at an almost entirely guaranteed $74.8 million over the next three seasons, and he's more of a scorer than a true point.
While Rozier hasn't shot the ball well this season (33.5 percent from three), he's also playing on one of the worst teams in the league and has a career percentage of 37.1. While he's less of a true distributor, Rozier's 5.1 assists per game are a career best. If, after a test run, Rozier's not a long-term fit, he would represent a movable salary in the offseason if the team wants to go hunting for a better match at the position.
Oubre (still out with a hand injury) or Crowder could be an add-on to give Minnesota additional wing depth.
Hornets Acquire Westbrook
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Clearing Rozier's salary could bring youth and draft considerations to Charlotte. Westbrook, one of Jordan Brand's most prominent athletes (Michael Jordan is governor of the Hornets), could end up re-signing with the team at a cheaper annual salary. His reputation is as a player who lifts a team's floor but caps them with a lower postseason ceiling.
That's assuming the Hornets believe Westbrook can complement LaMelo Ball. If not, consider it a move for the future and a brief stay for Westbrook. If the Hornets can pluck young talent from the involved teams (notably Reaves and/or Christie) while adding draft compensation (at least a first-round pick), that might be a viable return for clearing Rozier's long-term salary.
The Hornets are slightly below the NBA's $123.7 million salary cap, but it would need to send out at least $37.6 million to match Westbrook's sizable expiring contract. That might mean new homes for Plumlee and Oubre, who are widely believed to be on the trade block in NBA circles.
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The Toronto Raptors may look to move Fred VanVleet, who can opt out of his contract after this season. He could fit with three of the aforementioned teams (probably not Charlotte). The Utah Jazz are also believed to be shopping Mike Conley Jr. The Miami Heat may have a similar approach to Kyle Lowry (almost 37) as the Suns with Paul, looking for a younger, long-term fit.
Teams like the Los Angeles Clippers would like to improve at that position, with John Wall apparently available. The Orlando Magic have eyes on a quality veteran like VanVleet, per sources. The Dallas Mavericks are still looking for a Jalen Brunson replacement. The Washington Wizards don't have a true answer at the point.
Finally, the rules are strict in a multi-team deal. Each franchise needs to "touch" at least two others with a player, pick, cash ($1.1 million minimum) or the rights to a drafted player who is still considered a viable NBA prospect.
*Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.