Armed with ample cap space, a handful of trade assets and an ambition to win that only showed up a couple of years ago, the Los Angeles Clippers have a number of avenues through which they can convince Chris Paul—franchise cornerstone and unrestricted free agent—to sign a new contract with the team. Of the available options, swinging a deal to bring in free-agent center Dwight Howard is easily the best one.
We know this to be true for a couple of reasons.
First, Paul and Howard have been angling to team up for a long time. According to a report earlier this year from Marc Spears of Yahoo!, the seeds for a possible meet-up were sown nearly five years ago:
Paul and Howard were teammates on Team USA's 2008 Olympic team. They grew close during that time, and so did their families. While watching LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and form a super team in Miami, Paul and Howard have been talking about joining forces for years.
Spears also noted that Paul tried to lure Howard to the New Orleans Hornets before both stars ended up in Los Angeles, and the duo even discussed getting together with the Dallas Mavericks as recently as the 2011 lockout.
And now, according to multiple sources, including Chris Broussard of ESPN, CP3 and D12 are talking and texting about trying to join forces yet again. In other words, there's no mystery here: Paul and Howard want to play together.
They'd better be careful what they wish for, though, as Paul is notoriously hard on teammates he doesn't believe are fully invested. At the same time, Howard has had a difficult time getting along with strong personalities—like Kobe Bryant, for example.
If the two were to wind up together, there would almost certainly be a few rough patches. Howard, in particular, hasn't shown any signs of growing up over the past few seasons. And Paul is bound to bristle at some of Howard's childish episodes.
Still, if Howard is what Paul wants, then bringing in the big man is definitely the best way for the Clippers to convince him to sign on the dotted line.
Howard's appeal to Paul probably goes beyond friendship, though. The point guard knows the value of a dominant big man, which is where the other argument for acquiring Howard comes into play.
Some of CP3's best years were spent with the Hornets who had a defensive-minded center in Tyson Chandler that complemented Paul's skills perfectly. Paul undoubtedly understands the worth of a rim protector, which probably has just as much to do with his affinity for Howard.
The Clippers were a solid defensive team during the regular season last year, ranking ninth in efficiency with a rating of 101 points allowed per 100 possessions. But things fell apart in the playoffs.
Full disclosure: Howard's Lakers were the only playoff team with a worse defensive rating, so it's certainly not a sure bet that D12 is still the shot-erasing force he once was. Still, the Clips should be relatively confident that he would represent a massive upgrade on the defensive interior—even if he's no longer truly elite.
Defensive failures were at the heart of the Clippers' downfall last year, so if L.A. wants to show Paul that it really wants to win, bringing on a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner is a good way to go.
Getting the duo together is going to be costly, and the Clippers need to be sure that Paul is comfortable with giving up the team's best young players in order to bring Howard on board. According to Broussard, the Clips would likely have to part with both Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe to bring back Howard in a sign-and-trade deal.
After seeing what a thin bench and a suddenly ancient roster did to the Lakers last year, Paul and the Clippers might have some reservations about what that type of trade could do to the roster. Assuming both Los Angeles teams would accept a Howard-for-Griffin-and-Bledsoe deal, the Clippers would be left with only five players on guaranteed contracts heading into the 2013-14 season: Paul (assuming he re-signs), Howard, Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford.
There would be a ton of work to do to fill out the rest of the roster.
And before getting to that point, there would still be the small matter of getting two franchises who can't stand each other to agree on a massive trade. A few knowledgeable NBA sources seem to be of the opinion that the Hatfields and McCoys would be more likely to work together than the Clippers and Lakers.
Ultimately, giving Paul whatever he wants is the best way to keep him around. There are a number of secondary moves the team could make—allowing Paul to have a say in the hiring of the team's next coach, finding capable veterans to fill out the roster and cultivating a culture with the kind of edge Paul prefers.
But if the team is committed to Paul, the best thing it can do is to provide him with the running mate he's been after for years. The ideal pitch to get CP3 to re-sign with the Clips starts and ends with acquiring Dwight Howard.