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Paul George, Chris Paul and the Warriors’ ticking clock

Paul George, Chris Paul and the Warriors’ ticking clock

Executing trades in the modern NBA can be difficult, Mike Dunleavy Jr. pointed out at his pre-draft press conference. All teams have smart front offices with quantitative models and analytics departments. The new collective bargaining agreement complicates deals for high-payroll teams in a number of punitive ways.

A blockbuster trade gets even trickier when there’s an artificial deadline and the whims of a superstar to react to.

Paul George has emerged, if the reports and rumors are to believed, as the most talented attainable player via trade. If the Clippers don’t offer him the four-year maximum extension he’s eligible for, he could opt in for $48.8 million and steer his way to a team willing to pony up that $221 million. Or, the nine-time All-Star could decide to sign into any team’s cap space for roughly the same amount — though Philadelphia and Orlando are the only contending teams with enough cap space to make sense.

The first avenue is where Golden State — motivated to add a true No. 2 option for the tail end of Steph Curry’s prime — comes in. There is smoke surrounding the Warriors and George; ESPN insider Brian Windhorst identified Golden State as a team “potentially” prepared to trade for him and give him a maximum four-year extension.

But to execute a sign-and-trade with the Clippers, the Warriors will need to hurry up.

Urgency is key, as the deadline to guarantee Chris Paul’s $30 million contract, waive him or trade him is Friday, though they could work to extend that date. Paul’s figure would be the best way to match salaries in a trade for George or another star of a similar cap number.

“I think it’s fine,” Dunleavy said of Paul’s deadline date. “We know what it is. We planned for it. I think it’s more difficult about balancing the salary versus the quality of player and taking that into account, which makes it tough. I mean, I’m OK with the date. You know, I guess we’ll see if that changes. But for now, I’m good with it. I understand the rules. We’ll abide by it.”

The Warriors acquired Paul last summer in the Jordan Poole trade. Adding the veteran point guard not only gave Golden State a steadier point guard option off the bench, it provided optionality. Since Paul’s 2024-25 salary is non-guaranteed, the Warriors — who paid a record luxury tax bill last year — can treat him as an expiring contract and get $30 million of cap relief by cutting him. Or, they can decide to guarantee his $30 million salary and use him in a trade.

The snag is that the June 28 deadline — two days after the first round of the NBA Draft — puts an artificial clock on finding a deal. Paul and the Warriors could agree to push back the deadline date, but that would make little sense for the point guard, who could potentially lose suitors as teams sign free agents.

If Friday comes and the Warriors don’t have a trade in place but are still confident they can package Paul in a deal, they could retain the veteran guard and trade him later. But that would risk a deal falling through and having to pay a backup point guard $30 million, possibly going over a punitive salary apron to do so. Cutting him would be safer, but the team wouldn’t be able to backfill his $30 million payroll slot.

If the Warriors waive Paul, making a deal for George becomes much less palatable. Golden State would likely have to include Andrew Wiggins ($26.2 million) or Draymond Green ($24.1 million) as the biggest salary to match George’s $48.8 million, along with young pieces. And doing that would defeat the purpose: The Warriors would want to add George to a contending mix, not take one step forward and two back.

The Warriors’ most appealing potential trade assets include Paul, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Brandin Podziemski, Trayce Jackson-Davis and two of their own future first-round picks (2026 and 2028). Dunleavy said it would “take a lot” for the Warriors to trade from their young core, but George — a perennial All-Star who would fit well as an elite two-way player on the wing next to Curry — should qualify as “a lot.”

The George side is complicated, too. The 34-year-old wing is from Southern California and returned close to home when he joined the Clippers in 2019. The Clippers reportedly are hesitant to offer him the four-year max that other teams may put on the table. He also has a deadline of June 29 – one day after Paul’s — to accept his 2024-25 player option or become a full-fledged free agent.

If George becomes a free agent, the Warriors won’t have the cap space required to sign him outright. The path for Golden State to acquire him would be if he opts in and asks the Clippers to trade him specifically to the Warriors. If he doesn’t do that, other teams would likely be willing to trump whatever the Warriors can offer, be it with more draft capital or win-now talent.

There are lots of variables at play. But even before the Draft starts, the Warriors are on the clock.

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