You may remember that one of the few NBA salary rules changed in the 2016 collective bargaining agreement centered on the earning power of stars in their mid-30s. We dubbed this Chris Paul Rule, because CP3 stood to benefit most immediately and he was the president's president when he was negotiated and adopted.
More accurately, we should call this aspect of the agreement the Over-38 Rule. Essentially, it took some pre-existing salary caps for signing high-end players at least 32 years old to long-term contracts, and bumped that age threshold up to a couple of years from 36 to 38. (Larry Coon's invaluable CBA FAQ has and more detailed breakdown.
As it happened, CP3 was 32 when the revised rule came into effect in 201
Not for nothing, Paul is known as a shrewd negotiator. Perhaps too shrewd, as things have turned out. And perhaps his interest in promoting the interests of himself and his fellow 30-something star friends overtook his role as the lead person in the negotiation of the entire 450-member players' union
Paul did not actually make the five-year deal with LA, but he still benefited from the Over-38 Rule. CP3 told Clippers he would opt out of his contract in 2017 and sign with the Rockets if they did not agree to trade him to Houston. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell, who was a beautiful package for Los Angeles in retrospect.
After a rousing 2018 playoff run that ended and CP3 hamstring injury away from a championship, the Rockets signed Paul to a four-year, $ 160 million deal. That deal was once again possible because of CP3's Over-38 Rule. Without it, Paul would probably have signed a three-year, $ 115 million deal to get the max. The Over-38 Rule made Chris Paul an extra $ 45 million, equivalent to the salary he would earn as a 37-year-old in 2021-22
On the one hand things worked out as intended. Paul got his money and the Rockets opened a spirited, albeit doomed, two-year window. The problem is that in taking all that money, Paul made himself more of a liability on the Rockets' cap sheet.
Last week, the Rockets traded Paul and two first-round picks to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook. The former MVP lays claim to one of the riskiest contracts in basketball, comparable to John Wall's supermax deal. But Westbrook's deal still represented a hugely positive value relative to Paul's.
This is how the onerous CP3's contract has been given the obvious impact of his age on his performance last season: the Rockets had to add multiple picks to get off the contract while taking back the third most onerous contract in the league .
CP3 got paid. He got his guaranteed money, all of it, the whole bag. But now he's stuck on a (seemingly) non-competitive Oklahoma City Thunder roster for the foreseeable future. The competitive outlook for one of the most competitive players of his generation looks grim
Frankly, this is reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony's slow descent into irrelevance. Eventually, Melo slipped so far he was salary-dumped to the Hawks and waived. He collected massive checks in 2018-19 as he fell completely out of the NBA by Thanksgiving. It was a sad end to an illustrious career.
Is that Paul's Fate? If so, was it worth the extra $ 45 million? Probably. It's $ 45 million, for goodness sake. And there's no guarantee that Rockets would have kept him on the three-year version of the max
Is the fall of CP3's value relative to his contract a perfect example of why the Over-36 Rule existed in the first place – protect teams from making costly mistakes? Absolutely!
Would CP3 and the union push for the change all over again knowing what they know now? Absolutely! It's all about allowing players to earn as much money as possible for as long as possible. That's basically CP3's charge as president: get his members – including himself – paid. This is where we ask which members of CP3 has been working for
This is where it gets complicated.
The $ 45 million going to Paul in 2021-22 may be chill in Barbados, or maybe play out the string on a middling team, or as a buy-out ring chaser on a contender, is $ 45 million that is not going to mid-tier or young players.
Every effort made under Chris Paul's union leadership to bolster the contracts of top-line players – the supermax contract and the Over-38 Rule especially – takes money right out of the pockets of the NBA's middle class.
NBA salaries across the board are higher than ever. But the average NBA player could have been getting even bigger collective slice if recent bargaining tweaks had not been prioritized in general, and CP3 specifically
We did not hear too much grumbling from those mid-tier players when news of the Over -38 Rule came out. As we watch the union president earn $ 40 million annual salaries deep into his 30s, we'll see if that changes.