The Cleveland Cavaliers essentially gave LeBron James the keys to the franchise before he decided to take his talents to South Beach. After Chris Paul’s decision to decline a contract extension earlier this summer, Clipper Nation is anxiously awaiting his next move.
Much has been speculated over what the Clips need to do to ensure that CP3 remains a Clipper for life. Obviously, bringing home an NBA Championship would help, but that is an uphill battle.
What if the Clippers fall in the second round again to a team like the Los Angeles Lakers? What if they do not even make it out of the first round of the playoffs? Will Paul leave the Clippers as quickly as he joined them?
Conventional wisdom tells us that unless the Clippers reach the conference finals, then at best they stagnated from their tremendous jump last season.
While Paul could certainly bolt next summer, the smart money suggests that he will remain a Clipper for the long-run.
One of the main differences between the summer of 2013 and the summer of 2010 is the caliber of free agents on the market.
Heading into the 2013 offseason, the crop of dynamic free agents is much smaller than it was three summers ago. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard headline the class, but after those two there is a steep drop off.
Whereas teams were desperately shedding contracts to make room for max free agents heading into the summer of 2010, there are only a handful of teams that have cut salary in an attempt to make room for Paul and/or Howard.
While there is the potential that the two might head to the Atlanta Hawks or team up with Dirk Nowitzki on the Dallas Mavericks, neither player will receive the marketing or global icon opportunities that they will get in a market like Los Angeles.
This is not a LeBron James in Cleveland situation either.
James had to be the man night in and night out for the Cavs. Regardless of whom Cleveland’s front office brought in, the results were always underwhelming.
Paul already has a super sidekick in Blake Griffin, in addition to the perfect blend of young talent and savvy veteran leadership on the Clips.
As Stoudemire and Anthony are already in Knicks’ uniform, Paul would seemingly be the missing link. However, given the Knicks' front office moves and recent acquisition of Jason Kidd, the likelihood of the Knicks making a serious move for Paul is nearly impossible.
Paul really does not have better options than he does in Los Angeles.
Team President Andy Roeser gave Paul the latitude to work closely with the front office this offseason to bring in players that would elevate the team’s chemistry and effectiveness.
Some might suggest that the Clippers main issue is their head coach Vinny Del Negro.
Del Negro certainly is no Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich and has been on the hot seat. The young coach is on the last year of his contract, and the front office’s decision to re-sign or let go of Del Negro will certainly be impacted by CP3’s offseason plans.
Few teams in the history of the league have been able to microwave a contender over the offseason like the Miami Heat did two summer’s ago. The West is deep and as competitive as ever, but with Paul at the helm the Clippers legitimately have a chance to win every game.
This Clippers' squad is the best team in the history of the franchise, and could easily be the deepest team with the most chemistry. The camaraderie of last year’s squad was akin to that of a college team, tweeting at each other, going out to team dinners, and partaking in DeAndre Jordan’s viral #GotEm game.
Paul could disrupt any budding sense of longevity and hope for Clipper Nation by opting to move elsewhere next summer. Given the landscape of the NBA however, his best chances of winning are on the Clippers.
A New Home
Since coming to Los Angeles, Paul has only had the best things to say about the city and the Clippers organization.
While dysfunction ran aplenty in his time in New Orleans, the Clippers have really turned into a first class franchise over the last few seasons. From savvy draft picks like Eric Gordon and Eric Bledsoe, to the acquisition of Paul and the signing of Chauncey Billups, the Clippers have become a destination for big name free agents and veterans chasing a ring.
The city itself has also been critical in shaping Paul’s prime in the NBA.
Playing in the second largest city in the country alongside the most exciting big man in the game in Blake Griffin, Lob City’s global recognition is only growing, and beginning to rival established squads like Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and Kevin Durant's Thunder.
The Clippers had two starters on the Western Conference All-Star team last season in Paul and Griffin, equal to that of their purple and gold co-tenants.
ESPN, TNT and ABC have picked up a record amount of Clippers games, only enhancing Paul and the Clip Show’s potential for national and global exposure.
"From his perch at the head table, CP3 assures me [GQ contributor Steve Marsh] that he preferred the Clippers to the Lakers all along. 'They had the better pieces,' he says, 'and winning with the Clippers would be legendary.'"
Even Paul’s shoes are suggestive of his affinity for the city.
Will Chris Paul leave if the Clippers don't make the Western Conference Finals?
His new Jordan CP3.V shoes drop all sorts of hints that Los Angeles is becoming his new home.
Commenting on the design of the shoe, ESPN.com's Chris Palmer wrote (via ESPN.com):
"On the tip of one set of shoelaces is the number 310, the Los Angeles area code. On the other is 336, the area code in his hometown of Winston-Salem.
The midfoot shank on the sole provides torsional rigidity and enhanced support but is also a shout-out to the two most important places in Paul’s life. On the right shoe the shank is embedded with a map of the downtown LA area surrounding Staples Center. The left has a map of the area surrounding his alma mater, West Forsyth High School in Clemmons, N.C., a small suburb of Winston-Salem.
'It’s one foot in the past and one in the future,' [shoe designer Tom] Luedecke said."
Clipper Nation can only hope that Luedecke’s words are right and that CP3 will re-sign in the offseason. For the record, Paul never had a shoe that paid homage to New Orleans.
While a lot could change between now and July 2013, Paul appears to be happy in red, white and blue.
The Western Conference is stacked with contenders from top to bottom and every game will matter. The Clips are by no means the favorite to reach the championship or even the conference finals, but they could put together a run that will keep them among the West's upper echelon.
Given the tremendous talent and cohesion of this exciting Clippers roster, a strong performance in 2012-13 should be enough to keep Paul around for a few more years.