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The Los Angeles Lakers may not be out of point guard options after all.
Following the Lakers’ season-ending loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles’ lack of a viable point guard has been the biggest topic of discussion.
While the most popular option thrown around has been Kyrie Irving, that appears to be more of a dream scenario than anything else. Lacking the proper amount of cap space, the Lakers aren’t likely to pursue Irving at all.
Instead, a more realistic scenario has popped up. As reported earlier in the week by Turner Sports’ Chris Haynes, the Phoenix Suns plan to waive 38-year-old point guard Chris Paul.
Paul suddenly appears to be the Lakers’ best — and likely most affordable — option when it comes to solving their point guard woes.
While there’s little doubt that the idea of Paul, LeBron James and Anthony Davis teaming up seems like a match made in heaven, Los Angeles should be extremely cautious when it comes to banking their title hopes on an aging point guard who is often injured by the time the playoffs roll around.
If the Lakers can sign Paul at a reduced rate — whether that’s the veteran’s minimum (worth over $3.1 million for a veteran such as Paul) or the mid-level exception (worth roughly $7.6 million next season) — there’s no arguing that it’s a worthy addition for a team looking to win one last title before the 38-year-old James hangs it up.
The move also makes sense for Paul considering his desire to win a title before his career is over. It also gives him the opportunity to stick it to the Suns by playing for their biggest rival in the Pacific Division.
But signing Paul doesn’t mean the Lakers have solved their point guard problem. Whether that means re-signing the less-than-desirable D’Angelo Russell or signing another affordable veteran off of the free agency market, Los Angeles has to protect themselves from hoping Paul can stay healthy during an entire season.
Paul missed the last four games of the postseason during the Suns’ semifinals loss to the Nuggets due to a groin injury. He was limited to just 59 games in the regular season and appeared in just 65 games during the 2021-22 season due to a wrist injury.
Does this sound familiar?
The Lakers’ own power duo — James and Davis — deal with their own injury problems on a yearly basis. Since arriving in Los Angeles, James has averaged just 56 appearances over the past five seasons. Over the past three seasons alone, James has failed to appear in more than 56 games in a single season. Meanwhile, the 30-year-old Davis has always been often injured, averaging just 44 appearances over the past three seasons.
There’s no arguing that Paul would be a great fit alongside James and Davis and the Lakers would be absolutely deadly on the pick-and-roll when all three players are healthy. The 12-time All-Star point guard is arguably the biggest reason for the Suns’ revival, helping quickly mold a team that couldn’t even make it into the playoffs into a yearly championship contender.
It’s also no secret that Paul consistently makes teams better when he’s on them, most recently leading a young Oklahoma City Thunder squad to a surprise playoff appearance during the 2019-20 season.
The problem is Paul’s age and his availability. The problem becomes further exacerbated considering the Lakers already have those same issues with their top two players in James and Davis.
Paul is certainly a better option than Irving. By signing Paul, the Lakers can re-sign their key players — such as Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura — and possibly add a couple more pieces without giving up anything in return. Meanwhile, a possible Irving sign-and-trade — which was always an unlikely idea — would force the Lakers to essentially use their remaining cap space (roughly $30 million) to acquire Irving, give up assets and forfeit their ability to sign/re-sign key players.
There’s no doubt the Lakers should pursue Paul once he becomes available. But Los Angeles also needs to have a safety net in mind considering they’re adding a point guard with well-known injury issues who will turn 39 years old during the 2023-24 season.
Paul gives the Lakers their best opportunity at winning one more title during the James/Davis era. But Los Angeles also needs to make sure they either bring back Russell or sign a viable bargain-level point guard in free agency in case Paul is out for an extended stretch of time next season.
The Lakers should absolutely sign Paul. But they shouldn’t place all of their hopes on an aging point guard who may not be available for the entirety of a deep postseason run.