Chris Paul has chosen to keep his options open for the 2013 NBA offseason, but the wisest choice of all is right where he is. He needs to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers long term.
Paul surely had to be excited when it looked as if he’d be a Los Angeles Laker last season. Yet, despite the crushing disappointment when David Stern nixed the trade, Paul actually landed in an equally-attractive spot.
Playing with Blake Griffin and the Clippers, Paul put up his best season in nearly three years, while also winning a higher percentage of games than he had since 2008.
As the catalyst for “Lob City,” Paul is seen as the savior of this woebegone Clippers franchise.
Griffin may be the sizzle, but everyone knows that Paul is the steak. Without him, Griffin would have only had about two thirds of his SportsCenter highlights, and the Clippers would have been lucky to win half the games they did.
Before CP3, the Clippers were watchable again because of Griffin. With Paul? They suddenly were a legit threat for the playoffs and to the Lakers.
Yet, this isn’t all about warm and fuzzy memories. Paul had plenty of those with the New Orleans Hornets, and that didn’t keep him from wanting to leave.
Paul’s only 27, and could become even more frighteningly good. Yet, he’s also dealt with plenty of health problems, and he may not be one of those guys who can play into his late 30s.
At this stage in his career, it’s safe to say that he will not want to play for any team that’s a fringe contender or worse. Teams like the Orlando Magic and the Houston Rockets might have some money next offseason, but they don’t offer a guaranteed chance to win.
While he might be willing to play for a legit power like the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, it appears that he would also prefer a big market stage.
Thus, his potential destinations are quite limited next year. The Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics all have top-flight point guards of their own, and they are way over the salary cap.
And sorry, New York Knicks and Miami Heat, you won’t be able to just sign-and-trade for Paul next year either. This was the year to do it; now you’re capped out and the rules have changed starting in 2013.
That basically leaves the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks as the only obvious possibilities to sign him outright. Do either of them have a clearly better chance to win a title than the Clippers do?
Wherever Dwight Howard signs could turn this whole argument on its head, but he too will be limited by the aforementioned destination and cap issues.
Right now, Dallas is certainly head and shoulders above the Hawks, but they’ve only held steady thus far, whereas the Clippers are an up-and-coming team.
Griffin is only going to keep getting better, and he’s a true star already. DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are developing into legit starting material, and the formerly stingy ownership has already shelled out big money to get Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom aboard.
It’s also a sound financial decision. As NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin points out, Paul’s refusal of the Clippers’ three-year, $60 million contract extension this year was a perfectly proper fiscal move and shouldn’t be assumed as a desire to leave:
If he plays out this season, becomes a free agent and then re-signs with the Clippers he can get a five-year, $105 million contract. It is one of the quirks of the new CBA that it is in the financial interest of players to become free agents and re-sign with the same team rather than to just sign an extension with their team.
No other team will be able to offer him remotely that amount of money as a free agent.
It’s also about legacy. Whichever contender Paul might sign with, he will not have the same leading-man clout as in L.A.
Going to Boston or the Lakers? He’s just one in a long line of greats to wear those jerseys. Going to the Heat or the Knicks? He’s just another big-name hired gun who’s been brought on board to “help” the stars already there.
Signing with Dallas or the Hawks? He’s merely on equal footing with Dirk Nowitzki and/or Dwight Howard.
With the Clippers, he’s the veteran leader. He’s the biggest talent the franchise has ever had. Were he to actually bring home a title, he’ll be immortalized as a one and only, rather than just another champion.
Paul has always shown that Isiah Thomas-like competitiveness, fire and pride. He seems to enjoy being the alpha-male who independently leads his team’s destiny.
Statistically, Paul is already on course to be one of, if not the best point guard of all time.
Yet, how many of the all-time great champions were journeymen, bouncing around between three teams or more? Stability for point guards seems an especially important legacy factor, even for those who didn’t get a ring.
Take John Stockton and Mark Jackson, for example. Statistically, they were within shouting distance of one another, yet Stock played for one team while Jackson played for eight (and 10 if you count two stints with the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks).
Stockton’s clout has been and always will be higher than Jackson’s, and a lot of that has to do with a perceived higher level of success and stability.
Paul’s leaving New Orleans for greener pastures will be understood and accepted by basketball historians in the same way Kevin Garnett gets a free pass out of Minnesota.
However, leaving a clearly-developing contender like the Clippers for yet another team suddenly starts to smack of Charles Barkley-level desperation. You get to leave once, and more than that begins to raise red flags.
Whether it’s for legacy, personal or professional fulfillment, Paul’s best bet is to keep the good thing he has going with Griffin and the Clippers franchise (as strange-sounding as that is to say).
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