Chris Paul, the league’s craftiest point guard, has maneuvered himself right to the cup.
The elite superstar will continue to play the prime of his career with the Los Angeles Clippers, agreeing to a five-year contract worth $107 million as free agency gets underway, and he’ll be driving into title contention with new coach Doc Rivers.
The Clippers' pursuit of Rivers was—at least in part—led by the interests of keeping Paul. The influential voice of Paul was reportedly “angry” when it was insinuated he was involved in Vinny Del Negro’s departure. Soon after, it was reported by Yahoo! Sports that Paul was “pushing for” Rivers to become the team’s next coach.
Clearly, Paul was involved in the decision-making.
Now, Paul has entrusted his legacy to Rivers, as the pressure to win defines both the team and the superstar. At 27 years old, Paul climbs into his prime with one of the game’s most revered coaches and teammates with enough talent to challenge for the Western Conference crown.
Among the league’s top talents, the ticking clock to win a title now strikes even louder for the star point guard.
What type of superstar will Chris Paul be?
Within the fraternity of the game’s best players, Paul lacks the credentials of fellow members LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker. If this were golf, Paul would sit with Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant as top-tier guys without a Green Jacket.
Paul has had individual postseason success—averaging 20.9 points and 9.5 assists in 40 career playoff games—but he has never had team success.
The Clippers are clearly in win-now mode, and they are front-loaded with the type of talent that can make a push for a championship. The problem, however, may be that the Clippers are still in need of the type of depth it takes to win in the playoffs.
Currently, the Clippers have roughly $65 million dedicated to only six players: Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler.
Los Angeles, led by the star personalities of Paul, Rivers and Griffin, will need to play the salary game and recruit quality talent under veteran-minimum contracts or through their mid-level exception.
That will mean utilizing either the Clippers' "non-taxpayer" mid-level exception of $5.15 million or the "taxpayer" mid-level exception of $3.18 million, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
Trades, of course, are always another option. Said Rivers, in response to trade rumors involving Bledsoe, via Turner:
"I keep hearing all these rumors about us and the trades. I like this team—now. So I don't know if we need to do anything. We want to add to the team. We don't want to take away from the team. That's the way I'm looking at it so far."
Returning guys like Matt Barnes or Lamar Odom would help in recreating the team that won 56 games and the franchise’s first Pacific Division title last season.
The difference this time around is supposed to be that the guy on the sidelines can help Los Angeles avoid last season’s first-round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Rivers has a .529 winning percentage in the playoffs and coached the Boston Celtics to the 2008 NBA championship.
Rivers is known for creating a competitive, winning atmosphere above all else, and the coach’s abilities to succeed will ultimately be knotted to his superstar guard.
The coach can help his point guard.
Chris Paul is committing the prime of his career to the Clippers, and, again, his legacy will inevitably be tied to whether or not he wins alongside his new coach.