Chris Paul said he isn’t retiring, but is there any future with the Warriors?

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Chris Paul is 11 hours from his 19th NBA season ending. He’s less than a month from turning 39. He takes a seat in the third row of Golden 1 Center after the Golden State Warriors’ morning shootaround in Sacramento. Later that night, the Sacramento Kings blow them out 118-94, an elimination that also throws into question Paul’s immediate future.

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

“I’ll talk to my wife and my kids, my family, my support system, see what it looks like,” Paul told The Athletic. “But this isn’t (the end of my career). I know it for sure.”

Paul remains under contract for the Warriors next season, but there’s a necessary caveat. All $30 million of his deal is non-guaranteed. Part of the Warriors’ reasoning behind the Jordan Poole for Paul trade last offseason was the financial flexibility it would provide this summer. The Warriors can use it as a trade vehicle or wipe all $30 million off the books before it guarantees on June 28.

Those options and decisions will be explored in the coming weeks. But Joe Lacob and the Warriors’ ownership group have already indicated a desire to avoid the second apron and even duck the luxury tax entirely, resetting the repeater clock. Salary slashing is needed for that goal. Tuesday’s elimination — capping a turbulent 46-win season that finished with the 10th seed and zero playoff home dates — would only seem to accelerate that desire for a financial pullback.

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

“I haven’t thought about it,” Paul said. “I’m too in it. I was in the gym at 8 a.m. this morning, lifting and getting ready for this game. When it’s time for that, Mike (Dunleavy) and Steve (Kerr), we’ll have a conversation and see what it looks like. But I loved it. It’s honestly — this is my fifth year living without my family — I probably saw them more than any other year.”

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

“That’s probably what I appreciated the most out of everything is just the communication of letting me know when days are going to be off,” Paul said. “Then your family can fly on the team plane like, I ain’t seen that. I’m grateful to Steve for that.”

When Paul went searching for a temporary place to stay in San Francisco after the trade, his wife helped him find a high-rise. Soon after moving into it, he discovered another notable tenet lived a floor below. He had moved into Draymond Green’s building.

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

Paul’s inner circle showed varying forms of shock and apprehension after he joined the Warriors, his heated conference rival the previous decade. There’d been so many competitive dust-ups and heated playoff nights between the sides. But Paul embraced it quickly, believing in the shared traits between the sides.

“I didn’t expect it to be bad,” Paul said. “When the trade happened, I was excited, I was energized. It’s been really cool to see all the basketball knowledge, the way different guys approach every day. When people ask about my experience here, I tell them I sort of got a chance to peek behind the curtain.”

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

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

“He was sitting in the plane like, ‘Man, I would have never thought. …’” Paul said. “‘I would’ve never thought we’d all be on here together.’”

Paul and Green didn’t envision it, but they embraced it once it arrived on their doorstep. Literally. Green took the elevator a floor up and went over to Paul’s house on several occasions throughout the season, watching other NBA games, college, NFL — talking basketball schematics, life, family, kids, future.

“I’m thankful and honored, happy as hell I got the opportunity to play with him this year,” Green said. “It’s not something in a million years we ever imagined. Other than winning, it couldn’t have gone better. Built a relationship that’ll go beyond whether he’s here next year or not and whether I’m here next year or not. I haven’t come across many, if any, guys like him.”

Paul and Green built a connection off the court as well. (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 roster about sacrifice. Thompson accepted a bench role in February for the first time in more than a decade. The two then connected a second-unit duo. Kerr tied their minutes together.

Paul told Thompson several times throughout the season that he’d get on his boat for a ride across the San Francisco Bay. They had to cancel once because of bad weather. This past week, before the last game of the regular season, Paul and Moses Moody rode across the water with Thompson to the game.

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

Then Paul went bigger picture.

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

Paul understands the business better than just about any other current player. He knows his contract setup, the Warriors’ tax crunch and will be in on the conversations that dictate his 2024-25 NBA home. Some paths could theoretically bring him back on a cheaper deal. He says he loved his time with the Warriors on a personal level.

But there’s the basketball side that also complicates the equation. Paul isn’t necessarily ready to just accept a lower-usage backup point guard role for the final seasons of his career. He remains of the belief that he can still run a team on a high-minute basis. Paul averaged 26.4 minutes per game this season. He’d been at 32 the last couple of seasons and averaged 34.6 for his career, never dipping below 31. All his counting stats were career-lows.

“I try to do the most with the opportunity that was given,” Paul said. “For me, it’s always been about winning, whatever that looks like. But I know I got a lot more to give to the game. The situation is what it is. But I’ve loved every bit about (this season). I’ve loved every bit of it. Getting a chance to compete with these guys.”

As the Warriors shifted around the rotation repeatedly this season, Paul fit perfectly as Stephen Curry’s backup point guard. They performed better as a team without Curry than they had in several seasons. But Kerr struggled to find usable lineups with both Curry and Paul on the floor because of the size disadvantage, especially with Thompson also out there.

“It’s a difficult situation for him that he handled beautifully,” Kerr said. “He’s always been the starting point guard for his team. But you look at our team and we’re pretty small. Even though he’s one of our best players, if we want to throw our best players out there — and he’s one of them — you start adding up Chris, Steph, Klay, it’s not the ideal roster for him.

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

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

“You saw tonight, (the Kings’) size and physicality overwhelmed us,” Kerr said. “When you look at the combinations that we have out there, it usually kind of separates Steph and Chris and Klay. So there’s not as many minutes as Chris would like.

“But the way he handled it this season was incredible. He’s so professional. Such a great mentor for the younger guys. One of the great pros I’ve ever been around. I love coaching Chris and I really hope we bring him back.”

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

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