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June 08, 2023

Chris Paul is likely to be waived in Phoenix. Could that impact James Harden's free agency?

Future Hall of Famer Chris Paul will reportedly be waived by the Suns. How does it effect James Harden's free agency and the Sixers?

It's early June, which tends to be a bit of a calm period before ramping up into a frenzy after the NBA Finals, but never underestimate the power of the NBA rumor mill at any given time. A big domino appears to be on the verge of falling in Phoenix, and that could have repercussions for the summer in Philadelphia.

For anyone playing catch up, Chris Paul's name came up yesterday thanks to a string of reports from several plugged-in reporters. Turner's Chris Haynes was first and he was most declarative, suggesting that the Suns were waiving Paul with absolute certainty.

This was softened ever so slightly by the likes of Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski at their respective outlets, who made it sound like more of an ongoing dialogue with multiple options. This, however, could simply be viewed as the Suns trying to control the narrative a bit, as they're incentivized to try to find a trade for him if it can help them add more win-now help to pursue a title, directly or indirectly.

The first place your mind goes is whether the Sixers would benefit from bringing in Paul themselves, though that only appears to make sense in a world where James Harden is leaving. Paul is far from the Hall of Fame, All-Star guard he once was, bothered by injuries late in seasons and unable to dial it up as often and as effectively as he could in the recent past. A master of the midrange, Paul's efficiency on two-point shots took a nose dive last season, a worrying sign for a small guard who will turn 39 in the middle of next year's second round.

Still, as a stopgap option and in a less-demanding role — perhaps as a backup, if he's willing to swallow that — Paul has a ton of on-court and off-court wisdom to pass onto any guard who would listen, and he remains one of the league's steadiest playmakers in spite of what he has lost. Paul has made a career out of picking his spots as a scorer while spoonfeeding easy looks to teammates, and the Sixers would be able to tap into his playmaking without needing to worry about absorbing much playmaking risk. It would be hard to think of a better mentor for Tyrese Maxey in terms of growing his playmaking and floor reads, with Paul a master of the craft in that regard.

But let's call a Paul/Daryl Morey reunion unlikely for now, as it seems he might have other teams on the mind if and when the Suns move on from him (notably: the two teams in L.A.). You could argue there's a more relevant detail on the Paul front for Philadelphia, which another NBA insider connected some dots on while live on air yesterday.

Appearing on Mason and Ireland in Los Angeles, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne was reacting to the news of Paul's potential departure and threw Harden's name into the mix, not necessarily "reporting" that this was a product of Harden but suggesting that the Paul news might have a bit more to it than on first glance:

"They don't do that unless they feel pretty good about somebody else, and I want you to keep your eye on James Harden. I don't want to report anything, but that was in the wind the last month or so. Everybody thinks it's like Philly or Houston, but I don't know, there has been discussion in the wind," Shelburne said. 

It isn't the first time we've heard Harden tied to the Suns and a reunion with Kevin Durant this offseason, with a report a month ago naming Phoenix as one of the potential bidders for his services. As of yet, it's still difficult to tell whether this is a real threat or simply a leverage play because the story around Harden seems to change by the day. Naturally, Wednesday also featured reporting that suggested Harden was "torn" between Houston and Philadelphia, which seems to be impossible based on the terms Harden himself has laid out over the last season-and-a-half in Philadelphia. Do you want to play for a very good team, albeit a flawed team that hasn't broken through, or return to a franchise that appears to be on the fast track to nowhere?

Going to Phoenix would require a fairly significant sacrifice in Harden's checkbook, but it differs from the Houston threat by way of providing Harden a chance to win. The Sixers have postured as though they will have a firm line in the sand on contract terms with Harden, which is a bit easier to do when your only real competition is a rebuilding team that can only offer money as an incentive. If Harden to Arizona becomes a genuine possibility, the Sixers can no longer negotiate as if they're the only team who offers Harden a potential chance to win.

But remember, we will probably get a conflicting report within a week on Harden's next destination, as around and around we go during this always delightful free agency lead-in period. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this telenovela. 

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