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Oklahoma City Thunder

Chris Paul carried the Thunder this season, but what does his future hold?

#Paul
(NBA Getty Images)

When Chris Paul arrived in Oklahoma City last offseason following a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets, few could have imagined his season playing out the way it did.

Trading places with Russell Westbrook, it appeared Paul was set for a mentoring role on a rebuilding team, but the 35-year-old had other ideas, quickly flipping the script as he guided the young squad to a 44-28 record, tying the Thunder with the Rockets.

Given just a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs in the pre-season by ESPN's Basketball Power Index, Paul and the Thunder not only made the playoffs, they made plenty of noise, going all the way to a Game 7 with the Rockets, that came down to the final possession of the game.

"We fought hard all year," Paul said after Game 7.

"Obviously, a lot of people doubted us, but we didn't doubt ourselves. We didn't give a damn about anybody's predictions going into any series. And any game we expected to win. That's the way we played all season long, every game, we expected to win."

While the Thunder were bounced in the first round, Paul proved he is still a player capable of not only contributing to playoff success, but leading it.

In their final game of the season, he became the oldest player ever to record a triple-double in a Game 7, recording 19 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. Throughout the entire campaign, his late-game execution as a mid-range maestro made you feel like you were watching Chris Paul from 2010 in 2020.

The Thunder were one of the most exciting teams to watch, seemingly playing a nail-biting game every week through the regular season and it's no surprise they were the most clutch team in the league, with Paul leading the league in clutch points this season (games within five points within the final five minutes).

Paul also had the best on-off net rating in the entire league, showing just how valuable he was to the Thunder's success when he was on the court versus his time on the bench. His net rating of 13.4 marginally edged out reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's 13.0, per NBA.com's John Schuhmann.

Paul not only held up statistically, averaging 17.6 points and 6.7 assists per game through the regular season, but he did also while sharing the backcourt with Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, turning their three-guard lineup into one of the most dangerous late-game combinations in the league.

While his on-court production was elite, his impact in the locker room might have been even bigger, guiding the likes of Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley and Lu Dort - who all had their moments during the postseason.

"Chris is obviously one of the best pure point guards to ever play the game, and no matter the age, he deserves the respect that he gets," Gilgeous-Alexander said via ESPN. "Honestly, it's just a blessing to be in the position I am to get to learn from him firsthand."

What does the future hold?

With Billy Donovan not returning as head coach, signs are pointing to the Thunder embracing their rebuild, which could see Paul moved for younger assets to better suit the timeline of their young core of Gilgeous-Alexander (22 years-old), Bazley (20) and Dort (21), along with their war chest of draft picks.

That war chest of draft picks? OKC already has 15 first-round picks in the next seven drafts!

While no decision has been made, Paul posted this heartfelt video on Twitter following their playoff exit, thanking Oklahoma City for the ride this season.

"To the team, to Sam Presti, Billy Donovan, the training staff, everybody man, and coming there obviously a lot of people tried to count us out, counted me out, and all I can say is, I'll never forget it. Never forget it," Paul said.

"Fifteen years I've had the opportunity playing on some amazing teams, but, Sam, you was straightforward with me from Day 1. I don't know what the future holds but what I can say is that this team, I think I made some connections and bonds with these guys that'll last a lifetime."

If the Thunder do look to move on from Paul and go young, there will be no shortage of suitors lining up for his services, with the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks among the early candidates reportedly interested in acquiring the 10-time All-Star.

At the start of the season, Paul's gigantic contract appeared to be one of the most untradeable in the league, but after his showing this season, all of a sudden, two years, $85 million seems manageable for a team looking to put themselves over the top in the postseason.

Just how much could the Bucks have used a guy like CP3 against the Heat?

There's still every chance Paul returns to Oklahoma City next season, but regardless, the 2019-20 season will stand out as one to remember, both for him and the Thunder.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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