The past two seasons in Los Angeles have seen Chris Paul help transform a franchise known for losing into Pacific Division champions for the first time in Los Angeles Clippers history. As Paul enters free agency this summer, his potential departure could cripple the franchise once again.
Paul provides stability to the franchise and serves as the team’s leader. One of the best point guards in the league, Paul is a demanding leader, but proves his worth by the amount of wins his teams rack up.
Should Paul opt to sign elsewhere, the Clippers would have two immediate options, depending on the team he chooses. The Clippers could facilitate a sign-and-trade, assuming the team Paul wishes to play for does not have enough cap space available to offer him a maximum contract. This would allow the Clippers to receive some compensation and help build without Paul around.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of suitors who could offer Paul a maximum contract without needing to sign-and-trade for him. Teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets all could have enough cap space to offer Paul a max contract.
Assuming Paul leaves for another team, who would the Clippers be able to target to take over his job at point guard? The first, and most likely option, would be for Los Angeles to hand the job to Eric Bledsoe. He might not be ready for the spotlight, but he has proven that he has the potential to become a quality NBA lead guard.
Bledsoe’s play improved significantly this past season. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he posted career-highs in every shooting percentage, reduced his turnovers to 3.2 per 36 minutes and posted the best offensive and defensive ratings of his career.
Still, should the Clippers choose to search for other options at point guard, they would only be armed with $13 million in cap space, with only eight players under contract. It would seem unlikely that the Clippers would be able to acquire an adequate replacement without trading with another team.
Still, with Bledsoe on the roster, it seems likely he would take over the starting point guard role. They could make plays for Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis in a trade, but handing the job to Bledsoe makes the most sense.
Bledsoe’s energy is infectious and might be a welcomed change for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Bledsoe excels in transition, much like DJ and Blake. There is no doubt Bledsoe’s primary goal would be to lead the Clippers in transition, where the team’s athleticism can be put on display.
Griffin and Jordan seemed to struggle this season playing at Paul’s slow pace. While the offense was efficient, it also began to take shots away from Griffin and forced Jordan to develop his post moves in order to stay on the floor.
Bledsoe might not lead the Clippers to a more efficient offense, but he might be the better fit, in that he wants to push the tempo and create extra possessions. Additionally, he would be a plus-defender, keeping the Clippers defense effective.
According to 82games.com, Eric Bledsoe was able to hold opposing point guards to a player efficiency rating of 14.9, right at the league average. Paul is a good defender, but he is not the type of lockdown, game-changing defender Bledsoe has proven to be.
Additionally, Bledsoe finished third in the league in steals per 48 minutes. Paul has been one of the best in the league at forcing turnovers and jumping in passing lanes, but Bledsoe is equally effective.
Overall, losing Chris Paul in free agency would derail everything the Clippers have built and accomplished these past two seasons. Paul’s impact on the game is immeasurable, despite how great his statistics are on paper. Leadership, poise and clutch play cannot be defined in a statistic. Eric Bledsoe could turn into an All-Star point guard in the future, but expecting him to fill Paul’s shoes would be humorous at best.
Eric Bledsoe might be able to fit better with the team’s overall athleticism and allow Blake Griffin to reach his rookie-season statistics, but at what cost? This is not a shot at Bledsoe, as it is a compliment to how great Chris Paul is. Statistics are great to look at, but winning is the only thing that matters. That is something Chris Paul does as well as any player in the league, and the Clippers would sorely miss him because of that.