The idea of Chris Paul playing for the Los Angeles Clippers long-term is nice, but it's not set in stone. The future Hall-of-Fame point guard has not signed a contract extension with the Clippers and, at the moment, is set to become a free agent in the summer of 2013.
If it were not for NBA commissioner David Stern, Paul would be wearing number three for the Los Angeles Lakers. Following the rescinded trade to the Lake show, Paul was shipped from the New Orleans Hornets to the Clippers for guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and Minnesota's unprotected 2012 first-round pick. That was the moment Lob City was born.
With Paul at the reigns, the Clippers enjoyed its most exciting season in franchise history. The team finished with a record of 40-26, eight more wins than the season before, despite playing 16 less games. Blake Griffin, an emerging NBA superstar, is the best running mate Paul has played with in his entire seven-year career. Paul dusted the cobwebs off a fan base that very few people knew existed. The Clippers' fans were loud in the postseason, giving their home team a legitimate home-court advantage. A year ago, that would have seemed unlikely.
Because of Paul, the Clippers are now serious NBA title contenders. But just because Paul makes the Clippers contenders does not mean Paul will re-sign with the team before the end of the 2012-13 season. Like LeBron James before him, Paul needs to think big picture. The NBA is a business, and Paul needs to do what's best for him.
The Clippers are on the rise, but unless the franchise capitalizes on the momentum it gained from the 2011-12 season, Paul could develop a wondering eye. Paul must realize his window is closing, especially because of his knee issues. He's not going to re-sign with the Clippers unless he feels the Clippers have a legitimate shot to compete for the NBA championship.
Blake Griffin is a huge asset for the Clippers. He's a great player and an even more valuable trade piece. It's unlikely the Clippers would even consider trading Griffin, but the option is still there. If Paul stays with the Clippers long-term, Griffin and him could become this era's version of Gary Payton-Shawn Kemp.
Despite Griffin, the Clippers do have some glaring issues that could lead to Paul exploring free agency. The roster is not that deep, and the franchise has no general manager. Also, the coach is deficient, and the owner is terrible.
Other than Griffin, the Clippers supporting cast is mediocre at best. Eric Bledsoe is a solid backup point guard, but he's still a year away from becoming a reliable contributor. Mo Williams is inconsistent—some nights he's great; some nights he's terrible. DeAndre Jordan showed no significant signs of improvement in 2012, which is scary, considering the huge upgrade Paul is at the point. Most big men improve leaps and bounds with a good point guard. Caron Butler is on the books until the end of the 2013-14 season. His production should only go down.
The Clippers had the opportunity to hire a new coach but instead chose the cheap route and exercised their option on Vinny Del Negro. It’s a lazy move by the Clippers, especially after former general manager Neil Olshey bolted for the same position with the Portland Trailblazers. Did Olshey even care about looking for a new coach? He likely had his eyes set elsewhere, and owner Donald Sterling probably didn't care enough to notice.
In March, there were reports that Del Negro had "lost the locker room" after the Clippers hit a rough patch in their schedule. The Clippers rebounded and made the second round of the playoffs, eventually getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Because the Clippers made the second round, Del Negro got himself an extra year on the bench. The Clippers could have at least explored their options, especially with successful coaches like Jerry Sloan and Jeff Van Gundy standing in the wayside. The Clippers won in spite of Del Negro, not because of him. Del Negro routinely made questionable late-game calls, including showing no signs of running an effective late game offense. As mentioned before, keeping Del Negro was a cheap move. If we've learned anything in the past, it's that being cheap does not equal championships.
Donald Sterling, one of the worst owners in professional sports, is now stuck in a position with no general manager, a lame duck coach and five free agents. Sterling needs to hire a general manager as soon as possible because if the Clippers don't get their act together, Paul could be playing for a new team in a year. Sterling has shown no signs of being a good owner in the past, so, for the sake of the true Clippers fans, hopefully he realizes that Paul is not an ordinary player. 95 percent of the teams in the NBA would salivate over the chance to acquire Paul. It's Sterling's move. What will he do to keep Paul in town?
As for Paul, he needs to decide what's going to get him closer to reaching his ultimate goal. If that means staying with the Clippers, then great. It's always nice seeing a player stay in a place long-term.
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