Someone is going to be the Knicks’ Mark Messier. It might happen in three years, or five years, or 10 years, or 30.
But one day, hopefully in our lifetimes, a veteran star will sign up for the immense task of ending the Knicks’ championship drought, and then actually earn a ride in a ticker-tape parade. Chris Paul should give that some serious thought after he’s done trying to win a ring in the desert.
Off his 32-point Finals debut in the Suns’ Game 1 victory over the Bucks, which followed his 41-point masterpiece in the Suns’ Game 6 victory over the Clippers, Paul had a chance Thursday night in Phoenix to do a lot more than advance the modern athlete’s winning fight against gravity and the aging process. He had a shot to take a 2-0 lead on Milwaukee, and get himself halfway home to his first NBA title.
At 36, Paul looks to be very much in his prime. It makes sense, too, since he has always been a quarterback who relies more on intelligence, instinct and vision than on athleticism. Like Tom Brady, Paul might go on forever, a possibility that makes him a fascinating free agent-to-be. And perhaps a fascinating Knick-to-be too.
Up front, understand that Paul has a really good thing going with the Suns. He’s got a great young backcourt partner in Devin Booker, a great young big man in Deandre Ayton, and a great young coach in Monty Williams. Paul can opt out of next year’s $44.2 million wage, and do a multiyear deal with the Suns that guarantees him a lot more money than that. He could potentially defend a title next year in Phoenix. Oh, and the golf’s pretty damn good, too.
But if Paul does check off that box and win that title his team is favored to win, he could be on the hunt for the last significant challenge of his Hall of Fame career. As he approached his mid-30s, LeBron James decided to go big with the Lakers. Maybe now Paul decides to go big with the Knicks.
He has his former agent, Leon Rose, running the operation.
“I was excited,” Paul said when he heard the news that James Dolan had hired Rose. “Le has been with me for a long time, through a lot of different things. And I couldn’t be happier for him and his family.”
According to former Nets executive and current ESPN salary-cap expert Bobby Marks, the Knicks’ extensive cap space would allow them to offer Paul a starting salary of $43 million (105 percent of his current wage) and a three-year deal for roughly $135 million. That’s a hell of a potential bid. Phoenix is the only team allowed to offer Paul a fourth year under cap rules, but then again, Suns owner Robert Sarver is not exactly known as an extravagant spender.
“The Knicks would be the only team I’d see Paul taking a call from,” Marks said, “because of his relationship with Leon and the state of the team right now. It’s the only team I could see him visiting if he explores his options outside of Phoenix.”
The Knicks should swing for those fences, assuming Damian Lillard is out of reach. New York is a city of 8 million point guards, yet its signature basketball team hasn’t suited up a special one since Walt Frazier nearly a half century ago. Chris Paul would carry Tom Thibodeau’s program to the next level, where the Knicks are winning early-round playoff series, moving toward Finals contention and, most importantly, scoring points with major stars around the league on the lookout for new homes. Among the more respected men in sports, Paul’s wisdom and professionalism would undoubtedly expedite the development of the Knicks’ young core and, if nothing else, enhance their asset value in a trade for one of those major stars.
Paul’s presence would give the Knicks so much credibility. So what’s in it for him?
He certainly doesn’t need the big city to upgrade his marketability, as Paul already appears in more national ads than any New York athlete. (Sabrina Ionescu, his State Farm co-star, might someday push him on that front.) And the Suns clearly are better positioned to challenge for titles over the next three years.
But the New York opportunity is so unique, and so enticing. Messier had won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton, yet he’s most remembered for how he ended the Rangers’ drought with his forever No. 6. The pursuit, Messier told me years ago, “became bigger than hockey and bigger than the Stanley Cup.”
Someone, someday, will experience that lifetime thrill with the Knicks. Chris Paul should give that a lot of thought.