When Chris Paul signed a 4-year, $120 million extension with the Phoenix Suns, many outside The Valley looked around in bewilderment.
“$120 million for a 36-year-old point guard?!”
Yes, you read that correctly, but the value of Paul with the Suns goes well beyond on-court metrics. Paul’s leadership and holding others accountable helped cement Phoenix into an instant contender last year in the loaded Western Conference. It reached an immediate goal that many felt was unrealistic, an NBA Finals berth. This was Paul’s first taste of a Finals run this deep into his illustrious career, plus the Suns had missed the playoffs for 11 years prior to his arrival. The marriage and instant chemistry between Paul and the Suns led to a seamless, easy negotiation regarding a new deal after the team's disappointing Finals collapse against the Milwaukee Bucks.
However, it should be noted that Paul isn’t exactly locked-in for $120 million in guaranteed money. Suns general James Jones, who served in the NBPA with Paul during their playing careers, gave his team multiple opportunities for a potential out down the road if Paul’s age eventually reaches a cliff. The final two years of Paul’s contract are not fully guaranteed. In 2023-24, only half of Paul’s salary is on the Phoenix books. The following season, the last in Paul’s newly inked contract, it’s all non-guaranteed. Protection is in place for the Suns not to cripple themselves in case father time beats Paul before he reaches age-40.
At this rate, though, it’s hard to imagine someone like Paul ever reaching that proverbial cliff anytime soon. Paul is the NBA’s version of Tom Brady, continuously evolving his game and aging like fine wine. Paul, the wine connoisseur himself, would nod to that comparison.
So far in the 2021-22 campaign, where the Suns have won five games in a row to reach 6-3 in the early portion of their schedule, Paul is teasing the next stage of his career where the burden is taken off his shoulders rather significantly.
Paul chose Phoenix mainly because of Devin Booker, who is only 25 years old and still a few years away from his prime. Deandre Ayton, the Suns’ No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 NBA Draft, continues to develop into a reliable two-way big who has been empowered by Paul. Mikal Bridges is also turning the corner as one of the most versatile two-way wings in the Association. With those three pieces to the puzzle, Paul knows what’s next for him. It’s time to take a backseat offensively and let the young core cook. Booker, Ayton and Bridges will allow Paul to age gracefully as he inches closer to 40 over the span of his new deal.
Say hello to the new model of CP3: the third or fourth scoring option who pulls off wizardry as a special on-ball playmaker. There’s a reason why Paul has been referred to as “The Point God” for a decade now. Now, we’re seeing that optimized version late in his career, leading a loaded young core in The Valley.