The summer of Chris Paul's free agency seemed to creep up on us. While
there was some speculation about his upcoming decision, his free agency has not
been as big a story as the future of his cross-town rival, Lakers center Dwight
Howard. Just as it was two years ago when the two superstars requested trades
from the teams that drafted them, the small point guard seems to be hidden
under (and maybe even protected by) Howard's tall shadow. Back in 2011, Paul's
departure from New Orleans did not garner nearly as much media attention as
Dwight Howard's painful saga with the Orlando Magic. Now, in 2013, more drama
surrounds Howard's free agency as a train wreck of a season clouds his future
in a Lakers uniform. But should Chris Paul's free agency be getting as much
attention? Many assumed he would stay with the Clippers because of their
"success" (more on this later). But is that a given? Is he even likely to stay with the Clippers?
Here are five things to keep in mind as July nears:
1. Was the Clippers' initial
chemistry a fluke?
When Paul arrived in Los Angeles in 2011, he instantly
transformed the Clippers. He changed the attitude of the team, transformed the
atmosphere of the locker room, and permanently altered the mentality of
tortured Clippers fans. He brought with him the winning formula, and molded LAC
into a winner. For arguably the first time in Clippers history, fans looked at
their team and said, now we can compete.
Two straight years of
playoff collapses made us look back and think, how well did this group really
mesh together? Matt Barnes, at the start of the 2012-2013 season, gushed about
the Clippers' team chemistry. As the long season played out, however, the
already rocky on-the-court relationship between the two superstars, Paul and
power forward Blake Griffin, steadily declined for the following reasons:
Paul does not trust Griffin in crunch time because of his inability to knock down free throws.
Paul cannot run his favorite play, the pick and
pop, with Griffin.
Paul has doubts about Griffin because his jump
shot didn't improve.
All of the above eventually led to:
2. The Lob City Divide
When we look at the roster, the team can be divided into two
groups: the young guys, including Blake and DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe,
who want to run and dunk – and the veterans, CP3 and Billups, who want to slow
down and run the offense. Paul resented the "Lob City" brand from the start –
he has been in the league long enough that all he wants to do is win, while the
young guys, in his eyes, just wanted to make tonight's SportsCenter Top 10.
3. Vinny Del Negro, Donald
Sterling, and more
Another factor that will significantly influence his decision is the
incompetency of the coaching staff and front office. Besides Paul successfully
recruiting Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill last offseason, the front office of
the Clippers has given Chris Paul very little help in building a winning team.
The lack of coaching was the
biggest weakness for the Clippers in the 2012-2013 season. Vinny Del Negro's
offensive "system" (which basically involves putting Chris at the reins, letting
him loose, and nothing else) could not and did not work if Paul is having an
off night, and the entire offense just sputters.
VDN's limited capabilities were magnified in the playoffs.
In 2012, VDN played checkers while Gregg Popovich played chess, leading to a
Spurs sweep. In 2013, Lionel Hollins and the Grizzlies made the necessary
adjustments after Game 2, while the Clippers simply did not.
Now that VDN's out, it seems a likely possibility that Chris
will not sign an extension with the Clippers until they have secured the
services of a capable coach, or unless Chris is guaranteed a significant say in
hiring a coach.
4. Looking forward
Chris Paul seemed to be committed to the Clipper's
organization from the start. But now that he's been here, does he really want
to stay? He must, along with the rest of us, have doubts about Blake Griffin's
development (or lack thereof). Throw in the historically incompetent front
office, and his decision is much less than set in stone. Next year, the
Clippers have committed $44 million to 6 players; add in Paul's max deal, and
there is very little flexibility to add new assets, either through trade or
free agency (the Clippers' draft pick, slotted at 25th overall, is
unlikely going to provide immediate help).
5. Exploring Other Options
Atlanta seems to be a slim possibility, unless
they can also convince DH12 or Josh Smith to sign and form another superteam in
New York, where we know CP3 wants to play, is
only possible if the Knicks dump Amar'e and some other contracts in a trade.
Same with the Lakers, if they can trade Gasol's
contract for picks or cheap assets.
The dark horse to land CP3 this summer? Dallas. The
Mavs have cap room, an established veteran superstar committed to winning in
Dirk Nowitzki, a great coach in Rick Carlisle, and a bold owner that's not
afraid to spend big money to build winning teams.
Of all possible destinations, Dallas seems to have the most to offer;
but we can't rule out the lure of playing in a big market such as New York or
So where will one of the best point
guards of our generation land? Nobody, maybe not even him, quite knows yet. But
as a Clippers fan, I'm sweating about the summer of 2013. Right in the middle
of his basketball peak at 28 years old, CP3 will undoubtedly alter the fate of
the team he decides to join, and maybe(probably?) the one he decides to leave
behind. Let the Chris Paul sweepstakes begin.