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Chris Paul said he’s not retiring, but is there a future with the Warriors?



The Athletic

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Chris Paul is 11 hours away from the end of his 19th NBA season. He turns 39 in less than a month. He takes a seat in the third row of the Golden 1 Center after the Golden State Warriors’ morning shootaround in Sacramento. Later that night, the Sacramento Kings blew them out 118-94, an elimination that also put Paul’s immediate future in doubt.

But this much is clear: Paul is not retiring. He’ll play a 20th NBA season somewhere.

“I’ll talk to my wife and my kids, my family and my support system, see what it looks like,” Paul shared The Athletics. “But this is not (the end of my career). I’m sure.”

Paul will remain under contract with the Warriors next season, but there is a necessary caveat. All $30 million of his deal is not guaranteed. Part of the Warriors’ reasoning behind trading Jordan Poole for Paul last offseason was the financial flexibility it would provide this summer. The Warriors can use it as a trade tool or wipe all $30 million off the books before it becomes guaranteed on June 28.

These options and decisions will be explored in the coming weeks. But Joe Lacob and the Warriors’ ownership group have already indicated they want to avoid the second platform, and even avoid the luxury tax entirely, by resetting the repeater clock. To achieve that goal, salary cuts are necessary. Tuesday’s elimination — capping a turbulent 46-win season that ended with the 10th seed and zero home playoff games — only seems to accelerate the desire for a financial rebound.

So Paul’s future with the Warriors is as uncertain (and perhaps more unlikely) as any other player who left the locker room late Tuesday night.

“I haven’t thought about it yet,” Paul said. “I’m too into it. I was at the gym at 8am this morning, lifting and getting ready for this competition. When the time comes, Mike (Dunleavy) and Steve (Kerr), we’ll have a conversation and see what it looks like. But I loved it. Honestly – this is the fifth year I’ve lived without my family – I’ve probably seen them more than any other year.”

This is due to the proximity to Los Angeles, but also due to Kerr’s open culture. Families are more welcomed into the interior of the Warriors building and around the team than is typical in the NBA.

“That’s probably what I appreciated most of all: knowing when days are off,” Paul said. ‘Then your family can fly on the team plane, like: I didn’t see that. I am grateful to Steve for that.”

When Paul started looking for temporary housing in San Francisco after the trade, his wife helped him find a high-rise. Shortly after moving in, he discovered that another notable tenant lived one floor below. He had moved into Draymond Green’s building.

“Luckily it’s nice that you can’t hear the person downstairs,” said Paul.

Paul’s inner circle showed various forms of shock and concern after he joined the Warriors, his heated conference rival from the previous decade. There had been so many competitive showdowns and heated play-off nights between the teams. But Paul quickly embraced it and believed in the shared characteristics between the parties.

“I didn’t expect it to be bad,” Paul said. “When the transaction took place, I was excited and energetic. It was really cool to see all the basketball knowledge, the way different guys approach every day. When people ask about my experiences here, I say that I have been given the opportunity to look behind the curtain.”

The Warriors faced the Utah Jazz at home on Sunday near the end of the season. They faced the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday. After the Utah game, Paul, Green and Klay Thompson – who all have homes in LA – chartered a plane a day before the team. Trevor Ariza happened to be in town. Paul told Ariza to get on their plane.

Ariza was part of the Houston Rockets teams that twice eliminated the Warriors in the Western Conference finals. He knows how intense the rivalry between Paul and the Warriors became, how much Paul struggled over the losses and how the Warriors taunted after the wins.

“He was on the plane and said, ‘Man, I never thought that. …” Paul said. “I never thought we would all be here together.”

Paul and Green didn’t envision it, but they embraced it as soon as it arrived on their doorstep. Literal. Green took the elevator one floor up and went to Paul’s house several times throughout the season, watching other NBA games, college, NFL – about basketball schedules, life, family, kids, the future.

“I’m grateful and honored, glad I got the opportunity to play with him this year,” Green said. “It’s not something we ever imagined in a million years. Other than winning it couldn’t have gone better. I have built a relationship that goes beyond whether or not he will be there next year and whether or not I will be there next year. I haven’t met many guys like him.”

Paul and Green also built a bond off the field. (D. Ross Cameron / USA Today)

Paul also built a relationship with Thompson. Paul accepted a reserve role in the third game of the season, coming off the bench for the first time in his 19-year career, a move that Kerr said sent a message to the rest of the squad about sacrifice. Thompson accepted a bench role in February for the first time in more than a decade. The two then connected as a second unit duo. Kerr tied their minutes together.

Paul told Thompson several times during the season that he was going to get on his boat for a ride across San Francisco Bay. Once they had to cancel due to bad weather. This past week, before the final game of the regular season, Paul and Moses Moody rode with Thompson across the water to the game.

“Really cool,” Paul said. “It’s always going to be a little choppy when you get into deep water, but…”

Then Paul went for a bigger picture.

“I have so many (former teammates) in my career that I have no relationship with,” Paul said. “I don’t really care or anything like that. Or people who don’t like me or whatever. That doesn’t keep me awake. But I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to be here with these guys. Me and Steph were already connected. Me and Dray definitely have a real connection now. And someone I’m grateful I really got the chance to get to know is Klay.

Paul understands the business better than almost any other current player. He knows the structure of his contract, the Warriors’ fiscal crisis and will be part of the conversations that dictate his 2024-2025 NBA home. Some paths could theoretically get him back on a cheaper deal. He says on a personal level he enjoyed his time with the Warriors.

But there’s also the basketball side that complicates the equation. Paul isn’t necessarily willing to simply accept a backup point guard role that will be less used for the final seasons of his career. He remains confident he can still lead a team on a high-minute basis. Paul played an average of 26.4 minutes per game this season. He was 32 the last few seasons and averaged 34.6 during his career, never dipping below 31. All of his counting stats were career lows.

“I’m trying to do the most with the opportunities I’ve been given,” Paul said. “For me it has always been about winning, whatever that looks like. But I know I have much more to offer to the game. The situation is what it is. But I enjoyed everything (this season). I enjoyed every bit of it. I get a chance to compete with these guys.”

As the Warriors changed rotations repeatedly this season, Paul was a perfect fit as Stephen Curry’s backup point guard. They performed better as a team without Curry than they have in several seasons. But Kerr struggled to find workable lineups with both Curry and Paul on the floor due to the size disadvantage, especially since Thompson was also there.

“It’s a difficult situation for him that he has handled beautifully,” Kerr said. “He has always been the starting point guard for his team. But if you look at our team, we are quite small. Even though he is one of our best players, if we want to field our best players – and he is one of them – you start adding Chris, Steph, Klay together, it is not the ideal selection for him.

“But he was great for us because he became our backup point guard. As I’ve said many times, our non-Steph minutes were the best ever, thanks to Chris’ leadership.”

Not the ideal selection for him. That’s the subsection of that Kerr quote that probably hits the hardest. Paul, on a reasonable deal, still makes sense for the Warriors as a backup point guard to stabilize them now that Curry is out. But he’s still hungry for more and his impact on the field, production and market could justify that, making a reunion unlikely.

“You saw tonight that the size and physicality of the Kings overwhelmed us,” Kerr said. “If you look at the combinations we have, Steph, Chris and Klay tend to be a little separated. So there are not as many minutes as Chris would like.

“But the way he handled it this season was incredible. He is so professional. What a great mentor for the younger guys. One of the great pros I’ve ever dealt with. I love coaching Chris and I really hope we get him back.”

(Top photo: Sean M. Haffey/NBAE via Getty Images)