Why Chris Paul's Future with Los Angeles Doesn't Depend on Blake Griffin
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In the current NBA landscape, superstars on Paul's scale basically get to decide where they want to play at any given time—regardless of whether they are under contract with their current team or not—and don't care a whole lot if the result is holding their current team hostage.
You can call it the Dwight Howard Corollary. Or the Carmelo Anthony Corollary. Or heck, even the Chris Paul Corollary.
Let's not forget that when Paul was going into the final year of his contract in New Orleans (he had the ability to opt out at the end of the 2011-12 season), he leveraged the Hornets into trading him (Paul at least was suave enough not to demand a trade publicly, but rather forced Hornets GM Dell Demps' hand by announcing that he would not sign an extension.) to a contender.
Now, after "basketball reasons," an NBA campaign in Los Angeles and a decision to exercise his option for this season, Paul once again is in the walk year of his contract, this time as a Clipper.
Many out there believe that Paul's decision rests on the broad young shoulders of his All-Star teammate Blake Griffin. The convention goes that in this era of superteams, Paul will only stay in L.A. if Griffin proves himself to be a bona fide superstar running mate for him.
And after a sensational rookie season, there are people out there who like to argue that Griffin hasn't shown any improvement, and may have even regressed over the last year-and-change. They say that Paul will bolt for a chance to play with a real star and contend for championships somewhere else.
That idea seems rather far-fetched to me.
First of all, Blake Griffin is a legitimate star in this league. He's one of the best No. 2 options on any team and has proven so over his young career.
Even in the "down year" he had in 2012, Griffin still finished in the top 10 in the league in both scoring and rebounding (a feat he failed to accomplish the year before) and was eighth in the NBA in PER (up from 15th in 2011).
Although his raw totals went down—something that makes sense once you take into account the fact that he played fewer minutes and also saw his usage rate decline slightly with Paul's arrival—his efficiency went up. Griffin was sixth in the NBA in field goal percentage and even with the his (admittedly alarming) regression from the free-throw line, his true shooting percentage rose as well.
Griffin also saw improvements in his steal, block, and turnover rates, and finished with a better offensive rating, better defensive rating, and more win shares per 48 minutes than in his rookie year.
All indications are that Griffin is a top-15 player in the league right now (he's been ranked in the top 15 for two consecutive seasons by ESPN's NBA Rank), and the scary part is that he has the potential for so much more.
Even if Chris Paul was somehow bamboozled into thinking that Griffin was unsuitable to build long-term with, where would he go to find his superstar soul mate?
The Knicks could always use a point guard, but they're capped out barring a miracle dump of Amar'e Stoudemire's salary. New York already used their amnesty provision on Chauncey Billups (ironically now a teammate of Paul's), so they would have to find someone crazy enough to take on Stoudemire's hefty contract and creaky, un-insurable knees.
Of the other marquee markets out there, the Lakers have completed the superteam transformation, Chicago is Derrick Rose's city and Brooklyn just maxed out Deron Williams to round out their pseudo-superteam.
Point guard-less Miami would be just unfair, and thankfully the Heat are capped out as well. The Spurs have cap space this summer (provided they don't bring back Manu Ginobili), but they are committed to Tony Parker through 2015. Oklahoma City has cast its lot with Russell Westbrook for the long haul.
Are the Mavericks really players for Chris Paul? They were supposed to bring in Dwight Howard and Deron Williams this season to prop open Dirk Nowitzki's title window, but that plan faded quickly. What gives us the impression that they will be able to woo Paul—without a guy like Dwight also coming on board—to play with a Dirk Nowitzki that's another year older and suddenly struggling to stay healthy?
Atlanta is the only other plausible destination, but the Hawks have their own free-agent-to-be to worry about in Josh Smith. And even if they re-sign J-Smoove, is playing alongside Smith an upgrade from playing alongside Blake Griffin? Any rational basketball mind would have a hard time arguing in the affirmative.
In reality, we don't even need to rule out every other team to see why Chris Paul would remain a Clipper.
As we are witnessing this season, the Clippers are morphing into a viable championship contender. LA.'s front office made a myriad of moves this offseason, and they have paid off nicely so far.
That resonates with Paul. They have his trust now, and he feels secure that the Clips have the executive chops to field a contender around him.
What's more is that even though most of the new additions are veterans (read:old), none have contracts guaranteed after next season, meaning the Clippers have the flexibility to reload right away and remain in the title hunt even if they don't win in the next couple of years.
Will Chris Paul be a Clipper in 2013-14?
DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are blossoming before our very eyes and, along with Griffin, they form a dynamic young core that will continue to develop over the next several seasons. That, along with L.A.'s aforementioned financial flexibility, promises a bright future for Chris Paul's prime years as a Clipper.
Unless Donald Sterling does something absurd—which is not totally out of the realm of possibility—like heckle Paul on the court (Sorry, Baron. You didn't deserve that, even if you were out of shape.) or insult him by offering Paul anything less than a max deal, Chris Paul will re-sign long-term with the Clippers. You can go ahead and lock that in right now.
And while you're at it, lock in the Clippers as perennial championship contenders (as crazy as that is to say out loud) for the next four to five years as well.
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