Chris Paul is leading the Clippers, and the team's success ultimately will fall on his shoulders.
As Paul enters his ninth season in the league, he should no longer be allowed to escape the pressure that squeezes all other marquee names.
This isn’t personal—even if Paul’s resume says otherwise.
Paul has never advanced past the second round of the playoffs, while all other top-tier superstars have:
|Superstar||Furthest stage reached|
|Kevin Durant||NBA Finals|
|Dwight Howard||NBA Finals|
|Derrick Rose||Conference Finals|
|Carmelo Anthony||Conference Finals|
|Chris Paul||Conference Semifinals|
With the urgency to win pressing on Paul, he has now looked to pass some of it off to Griffin. Paul recently called Griffin “our guy” in an interview with Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, adding, “our team will definitely go as Blake goes.”
Which elite superstar has the most pressure this year?
Wait. Hang on.
Griffin is the highlight. He is the playful one. But he’s a distant second to Paul’s elite talent. His role is valuable, but he is not the key to the Clippers’ success.
That’s on Paul. He’s the former Mr. Basketball of North Carolina, the Rookie of the Year, the perennial All-Star and the one considered the best at his position. He’s the one jawing at his teammates on the court, leading sideline huddles and deciding the direction of a franchise (whether he admits it or not).
The vice president doesn’t run the country. Griffin defaults to Paul, and that won’t change next season. At 24 years old and still searching for his own effectiveness, Griffin will continue to cater to his point guard.
Griffin adheres to his leader, just as he did Thursday in response to Paul’s comments in a separate interview with Shelburne:
[Paul] has a huge role on this team. He's been the guy who has closed out a lot of games late for us. But in my mind, this is the year I need to step into that role and really help him shoulder that load. I'll be right there with him at the end of games, being the guy that he can always count on.
His words sound slightly calculated and a bit political. Perhaps they’re best translated this way: This is Paul’s team, but I totally want to help.
Of course, Paul needs his assistance. It takes multiple superstars to win—just ask Carmelo Anthony—and both Paul and Griffin understand that. LeBron James needed Dwyane Wade to win his first title, just as Kevin Durant proved last season he needs Russell Westbrook.
Paul paired his words about Griffin carrying the team—“He’s our guy, and he’s good enough to do so”—with another statement: “As you get older you realize it's all about winning, and I think we both realize we really need each other in order to do that.”
The truth here is that Paul is publicly motivating Griffin, because he needs Griffin to fill the role of a Wade or Westbrook. It’s a move out of the Kobe Bryant playbook, one that inevitably heaps more weight on Griffin’s shoulders, even if there was no reference to “big-boy pants.”
It’s a necessary tactic for Paul, and it stems from his realization that his personal success isn’t enough for ultimate team success. Paul’s career postseason numbers are stellar—20.9 points on 48.2 percent shooting and 9.5 assists per game—but they've never been enough to lead a team to even the conference finals.
Without playoff success, everyone will view Lob City as a gimmick more than an effective path toward a title. Paul isn’t calling out his big man, but he is starting to make noise that he’ll need help this season.
That said, responsibility for this anticipated Clippers season doesn't fall on Griffin.
This is Paul’s team; he’s the superstar, and if the Clippers don’t take a further step toward contending, it’s completely on him.