The NBA world has taken to a cycle of dread, planning and free agency. The entire league revolves around which players can leave their teams, and which teams are capable of stealing them away.
It's within such a league dynamic that Chris Paul will enter the open market in the summer of 2013. Paul's initial term in Los Angeles is coming to a close, leaving Blake Griffin and the Clippers with just one more season to make their case as his destination of choice. Their claim is a compelling one, but when free agency opens next summer and Paul is courted by a half dozen teams (or more), will the factors in L.A.'s favor be enough to keep the league's preeminent point guard a Clipper over the long term? Let's take a look.
Room to grow
Blake Griffin is not only one of the best players that Paul could claim as a teammate beginning in 2013, but likely the youngest. Lest we forget, the monstrously productive 22-year-old has accomplished all that he has in just two NBA seasons—leaving him plenty of time to not only flesh out his game as he approaches his playing prime, but learn from Paul and reinforce their natural chemistry.
Griffin will only get better, and though his current lack of shooting range and occasionally underwhelming defense make him an easy target, players with Griffin's work ethic don't tend to stay flawed for long.
But the Clippers' youth and potential isn't limited solely to Griffin. DeAndre Jordan (24) and Eric Bledsoe (22) are already rotation-caliber players in the NBA, and have the potential to build out from their athleticism and develop more complete games. At worst, both contribute plenty and play safely within themselves. That kind of discretion is wonderful to see in two talented young players and makes their potential that much more credible.
Financial options aplenty
The Clippers have made some questionable complementary signings over the last two offseasons (Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford come to mind), but have at least provided themselves with a financial out in case things go sour. At present, L.A. has just $27.6 million committed in the 2014-2015 season—a number that doesn't reflect a re-signed Chris Paul, but also no longer has Butler under guaranteed contract and the choice of letting Crawford go before his four-year deal enters its third season.
This is a bit of a blessing, at least in terms of the fact that the Clippers won't be dealing with any financial repercussions without cause. There's no salary fat to trim in order to make re-signing Paul more feasible, and they have all the room in the world to re-sign Lamar Odom or Chauncey Billups next summer.
The Clippers still won't have very much room to make helpful additions after potentially re-signing Paul, but at least Donald Sterling won't have any reasonable financial explanation for breaking this core up before they've had a chance to run their course.
Lack of viable alternatives
The list of teams with either the cap room to potentially sign Paul or the flexibility to open up said cap room is fairly long, but in many of those cases, teams will have gutted their rosters for the chance to be a player in free agency. We know for certain that these Clippers are a playoff team, and there's reason to believe that—behind Griffin and Paul—they're capable of much more. It'll take some building, development and perhaps a coaching change, but the Los Angeles will likely have better prospects for the future than most of Paul's other suitors.
Add in the situations that don't make a lot of sense in terms of fit (Cleveland, Houston) or timing (San Antonio, Charlotte), and Paul's list becomes a short one. That's not to say that some of Paul's choices (like, say, Atlanta) aren't intriguing in their own right, but it's going to take a pretty tremendous situation to lure him from a safe situation on a growing team.
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