Nobody expected much out of the Thunder last season. Oklahoma City was able to land a load of assets in the deal that swapped Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul, with Paul’s future with the team uncertain given that his championship aspirations put the on two very different time lines.
But after a stunning run to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and a thrilling seven-game grudge match against the Rockets in Orlando, it became very clear that Paul was still operating an elite level. As a result, he quickly became one of the hottest commodities on the market this offseason.
Several teams expressed interest, with the Phoenix Suns eventually winning the sweepstakes and setting themselves up for a return to relevance after years of futility. It’s hard to gauge just how close he was to ending up elsewhere, but one hypothetical scenario had Carmelo Anthony reuniting with the Knicks and teaming up with Paul there.
On a recent appearance on SeriousXM NBA Radio, former teammate Matt Barnes claims that Paul told him he was actually considering New York, although he was ultimately turned off by the prospect of playing at an empty Madison Square Garden.
Did the pandemic keep the #Knicks from trading for Chris Paul?
— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) November 17, 2020
“He was saying the Knicks were an option but, you know, if he was going to New York he wanted the full Knick experience, meaning he wanted the fans, he wanted the essence, he wanted the ambiance of that Madison Square Garden crowd. And going there now, you know, we don’t know if that crowd will ever be back,” Barnes said.
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unclear when fans might be able to return to arenas. The Lakers have indicated that they won’t allow fans at Staples to start the season, while the Warriors have submitted an ambitious plan that includes rapid testing and would ostensibly permit 50 percent capacity at Chase Center.
Read another way, Barnes didn’t actually clarify that he was referring to the lack of fans because of the pandemic. Attendance at MSG has been down in recent years as the Knicks have struggled to gain much traction and have been left spinning their wheels in a perpetual rebuild.
The Knicks reportedly had some interest in acquiring Paul but ultimately were reluctant to give up too many of the assets that would’ve been required to swing a deal. So now we can go ahead and add this to the never-ending list of the Knicks’ near-misses in the free agent frenzy.