The Clippers are walking a fragile line by giving too much control to Chris Paul.
However, allowing him to dictate personnel moves ignores traditional NBA management principles that pilot the best interests of a franchise.
That’s not to say Paul isn't interested in winning, but his stake in the Clippers does not consider the long-term interests of the franchise.
In today’s NBA, though, the leverage belongs to the superstar.
The power shift tilted long ago, with franchises seeking to keep elite talent happy in a culture that caters to the demands of the league’s best players.
Teams aren’t built like they once were. Now, it’s a year-to-year effort to collect top talent and go for an immediate championship even if it’s a gamble.
Paul's goal is to win now.
At some point, a team has to go for it, and keeping CP3 may be the only way for the Clippers to stay relevant and pushing toward a championship.
So while allowing Paul to guide the franchise may be unavoidable, and he truly could be the franchise cornerstone owner Donald Sterling needs, it’s clearly poor practice to relinquish so much control to a player.
When the Clippers fired former coach Vinny Del Negro on May 21, T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times asked Sterling point blank whether or not the reasoning for the change was “just to hang on to Chris Paul.”
Sterling’s response was telling: "I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true. So I'd rather not say anything.”
It was clear what Sterling was saying, and Simers followed up with an even higher-level question: "So I wonder, is this decision being made because the players are now calling the shots? Am I off base?"
To which Sterling told the Times: "No, you're not off base. This is a players' league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy.”
Paul reportedly was extremely upset after being blamed for Del Negro's firing.
From ESPN’s Chris Broussard:
"He's angry right now and his anger is directed toward the Clippers organization," the source said. "Chris is a man of principle and if he feels like you've gone against his principles, it will affect how he feels about you. He's very agitated that his name has been put out there as the reason for Vinny's firing. He had nothing to do with it."
So, of course, the Clippers organization did damage control in the face of losing out on re-signing the unhappy Paul.
Clippers' vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks answered the innuendo in an interview with the Times in which he said it was an "organizational decision," one made by the front office that "had nothing whatsoever to do with any players."
The franchise's denial of Paul's involvement in the coaching change is hardly believable.
In addition to Sterling's interview with Simers, it is a reasonable notion that management would check with their biggest star regarding a coach’s performance.
Most importantly, though, the denial that Paul had been involved in the coaching change was refuted when a source revealed the All-NBA point guard was pushing for former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers to come to Los Angeles.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported:
Free-agent star Chris Paul pushed the Clippers to hire Rivers as coach, but will have to settle for Lionel Hollins, Brian Shaw or Byron Scott if he plans to re-sign with Los Angeles in July. Paul is unhappy with the fallout over the failed deal, sources told Yahoo! Sports on Friday night.
Could it be any more clear that Paul was involved with the Clippers' decision-making?
With CP3 now obviously controlling the organization, he’s expected to sign a five-year, $108 million maximum contract on July 1, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com. It’s clear to see how a player’s influence can affect a team’s long-term plan.
Once Paul signs, the Clippers will pay approximately $65 million to just six players—Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler—and they will now pay $21 million over three years to Rivers.
This puts Los Angeles in a vulnerable place if a key player goes down to injury or Paul wakes up one morning and demands to play elsewhere.
When a player guides a franchise, it becomes a win-now mentality at all costs.
Rivers being given power with the Clippers actually makes sense. Hall of Fame NBA writer Mark Heisler passes along that Doc will "take control of the basketball operation without title, like Gregg Popovich in San Antonio."
At 51 years old, Rivers has coached 13 years and played 13 seasons in the league. His deep roots in the game means a strong understanding of player personnel needs.
Doc is the guy you want making decisions, not Paul. No player should be given that responsibility, even if he's a top-tier superstar. When a player has complete control over a franchise, the reactions can be knee-jerk with little regard for the overall stability and long-term outlook of the team.
The Clippers are fine for now. They haven’t ceded complete control to Paul, and if they have, it has landed them in a positive situation.
From here, however, let Rivers and the Clippers' decision-makers who traded to get Paul in the first place handle the personnel decisions.
They know what they're doing, for this year and beyond.