After my co-blogger, Karan Madhok and I debated Dwight Howard’s future last week, it’s time we also looked into the NBA’s other big-ticket free agent this summer, Chris Paul. Much like D12, CP3 will also be at the center of attention come July 1 (when free agency kicks off), and any decision made by the Clippers’ All-Star point guard will surely be debated and scrutinized for a long time to come.
But first, let’s set some perspective. After playing for New Orleans Hornets for the first six seasons of his career, Paul joined the Clippers at the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. While the trade immediately gave the Clippers’ fortunes a fillip – they made it to the NBA’s postseason in both 2012 and 2013 following their last visit to the playoffs in 2006 – Paul must have considered the recent first round exit at the hand of the Memphis Grizzlies a huge disappointment. According to ESPN LA’s Arash Markazi, Paul even shared some of his feelings in this regard, saying, “I don't know. This right here was unacceptable,” he said. “We lost in the first round to a good Memphis team but a team we were capable of beating. There are no moral victories ... I have nothing to do. This is unreal. We only played two weeks longer than everyone else that didn't make the playoffs. That sucks. That stings.”
And so speculation is rife over Paul’s future. His pedigree is unquestioned as Sekou Smith
outlined on his recent Hang Time Blog on NBA.com on the top 10 unrestricted free agents this summer. “A six-time All-Star and culture-changer (see Clippers before and after his arrival), Paul is the best in the business at his position, a gold medal winner and an All-Star Game MVP,” Smith wrote. “Toss in his work as a pitch man (Cliff Paul comes with the package) and it’s easy to see why he’s one of the most recognizable players in the game today.”
Consequently, there is no dearth of teams vying for a player who averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 assists and a league-high 2.4 steals—the fifth time he finished as the NBA's top steal man on a per-game basis— in the 2012-13 season and was also named to the league's All-Defensive team (first-teamer) for the third time. There are four teams that could really make a serious pitch for Paul’s services: Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and the Los Angeles Lakers. Of these, the Rockets and the Hawks already have the necessary cap space to make an outright max offer to Paul and further surround him with quality talent. But with Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki committing himself to the pitching process for CP3, as per this piece by Zach Harper on CBSSports.com on Wednesday, things could get interesting for the Mavs. Then there are the Lakers, whose landing Paul is slightly more complicated, probably, because it would involve amnestying the injured Kobe Bryant. But then these days with the late Jerry Buss – very much a superstar player’s owner - no longer in charge of the NBA’s most glamorous franchise, anything’s possible with the Lakers.
There is the obvious possibility that Paul may stay back with the Clippers as well. For one, there is the huge financial incentive - a $30 million uptick in salary if Paul stays with his current team. Also, it’s not like the Clippers are bereft of talent. They have players like DeAndre Jordan, Jamaal Crawford and Blake Griffin committed to them until at least the end of 2014-15. And should the Clippers decide to make good on the overwhelming opinion on one of the recent Blogtable discussions on NBA.com, then the franchise must part ways with coach Vinny Del Negro and look to upgrade at that position. If Paul’s view is taken on that decision, that would further give him control of the franchise, which would certainly be to his liking.
Nonetheless, it promises to be an interesting few months ahead for Paul. He is wanted in a lot of places, but he must try to make his choice without creating any of the negative sentiment that followed in LeBron James’ leaving Cleveland and Howard’s decision to part ways with Orlando. That, too, would put CP3 in a class of his own.
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