As Chris Paul walked into the Garden on Friday night in his gray-and-green sweatsuit, an NBA cameraman asked the 10-time All-Star point guard about rumors that have him being traded from the Thunder to the Knicks.
“They trying to take some of that attention away from that Spike Lee stuff,” Paul cracked.
Then, almost affirming that something could eventually be up this summer, Paul made a beeline for the court, where new Knicks president Leon Rose was huddling with a public-relations executive. Paul gave Rose a 10-second bear-hug.
When Paul was leaving the court to the visitor’s locker room, he was asked if he could hug Rose again so a group of Knicks writers could catch it with their cell-phone cameras.
“I don’t want to get in trouble,” Paul said, smiling.
Paul was careful following the game, too, after hearing Garden cheers during his 21-point, 12-assist, 3-steal, 1-turnover outing in Oklahoma City’s 126-103 rout of the Knicks. Paul hit two early back-to-back 3-pointers, another one early in the fourth to put the Thunder up 30 and delivered a handful of fancy no-look bounce passes that had the Garden oohing.
Otherwise, the loss, which dropped the Knicks to 19-44, was only noteworthy because of owner James Dolan’s attempt to drown out a faint “sell the Knicks’’ chant with 1:40 left by having the entertainment staff blast heavy-metal music.
Paul was reminded of his 2010 toast about reuniting with Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire to “form our own Big 3.’’ Has he imagined playing in New York?
“2010?’’ Paul said. “It’s 2020. I’ve had two kids since then. I imagine playing in Boston Sunday. That’s the only thing on my mind.’’
The Spike Lee-Dolan “Gategate” may have actually benefited the new Knicks president, who has a close alliance with Paul as his longtime agent.
A source said the two have been through a lot and grew close — through a quashed trade from New Orleans to the Lakers and the subsequent package that sent Paul to the Clippers.
Rose, who declined to stage a press conference during his first day on the job Monday, got a chance to slink into the background — where the former agent is more comfortable.
“I’m so happy for Leon,’’ Paul said. “I get emotional talking about it. I’ve been through a lot with him. It’s bigger than an agent player relationship. It’s like my family. I’m rooting from afar.’’
Lee, who is boycotting the Garden after his security incident Monday, is a busy man. But you would think he would have shown up a lot more than three times this season if the Knicks had more star power, such as Paul, on the court in 2019-20.
Lee said he’ll be back next season. Maybe by then, Paul will finally don the orange and blue.
The owner of Modell’s, which The Post reported plans to file for bankruptcy, said recent sales are flagging in the New York-oriented sporting goods store because of the “lousy’’ local sports teams failing to attract customers who buy jerseys. Perhaps a newly financed Modell’s would be able to sell a slew of CP3 Knicks shirts and jerseys.
Recent visits to the Modell’s near the Garden indeed showed a modest section of Knicks gear — dedicated almost solely to rookie RJ Barrett. How nice would it be for Barrett to have a pure, play-making veteran point guard such as Paul?
Knicks scouts have added Paul to their research list trying to get a sense of how he’s gotten along with young players in his career.
Paul, 34, has done wonders as a backcourt mate with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is in the midst of a breakout sophomore season.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said Paul and “SGA” have “a great relationship.” Paul went out of his way to work out with the youngster in the summer after the blockbuster deal that brought Paul over from the Rockets.
“Because Chris has been in the league so long, those younger guys can learn a lot from Chris because he puts the time in trying to help the younger guys learn and get better,” Donovan said.
Rose has been the agent of the stars. Rose once aligned Creative Artists Agency luminaries LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. It was a severe blow to Dolan, who took notice and has always admired CAA’s influence.
There were NBA whispers when Rose verbally committed to Dolan in February that he would try to bring Anthony and Paul in to join him next season.
Anthony is low-risk, high-reward — a free agent who is not looking to break the bank to retire as a Knick.
Paul is complicated for a rebuilding club — with two years and $85.5 million left on his contract. Despite a throwback season, he’s going to be 36 when he starts that final $45 million season in 2021-22.
That could prevent the Knicks from opening another max salary slot for 2021’s solid free agent class, which will be led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
When Steve Mills led the Knicks, Paul was — to borrow a Garden phrase — laughable. Patience and sticking with a rebuilding plan was Mills’ mantra. The Knicks turned down Houston’s Paul overtures after last season.
There’s a new Rose growing at the Garden. Stargazing is in and it’s not a joke any longer.