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How Chris Paul has made every team he's been on better

Since his NBA debut in 2005, Chris Paul has found a way to shine in the spotlight on 6 different teams.

Chris Paul is a central figure for the Warriors this season as they seek another title run.

There’s no bigger contradiction in the NBA than Chris Paul, who made every team he ever played for better … but is still looking for a championship.

Does that change this season, with his sixth team? That would be sweet justice for this generational point guard, to restore the Golden State Warriors and finally sip champagne in the process.

The new team and 38-year-old are off to a good start in 2023-24. Once again, Paul is proving a good fit, showing leadership, elevating teammates, making plays and winning games. This will be on his basketball epitaph.

If you rewind his journey, you’ll sense a pattern, right from the jump. Paul arrives, makes an immediate impact, connects with new players, takes his team a level up … and falls short in the postseason. Rinse, hoop, repeat.

“Every team is different,” Paul said. “And what I’ve been able to do throughout my career is, you know, change with how each team plays.”

He has new life as the Warriors’ sixth man. As he prepares to face the Thunder, one of his old — and certainly most surprising — stops Thursday when the Warriors host Oklahoma City here’s a sample of his previous stays.

New Orleans Hornets, 2005-11

Highs: The fourth overall pick in 2005, Paul came with a veteran’s poise. The Hornets improved by 20 wins in his first season. He was a near-unanimous choice as Rookie of the Year. By his third season, he was runner-up to Kobe Bryant for MVP.

That season cemented Paul as a star. He led the Hornets to 56 wins, pushed them to a first-round victory over Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks and then took the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the 2008 Western Conference semifinals.

Lows: Hurricane Katrina arrived in New Orleans months after Paul, devastated the city and turned the Hornets into vagabonds. That season, the Hornets played in two cities (Oklahoma City and New Orleans) and four different arenas.

But with Paul, there really weren’t many negatives. He was a starter to open his career in 2005, a status he enjoyed until now.

His impact: The team that would eventually be known as the Pelicans had only two losing seasons with Paul. He was, by any definition, a franchise-changer.

He also put basketball on the map in New Orleans, where it failed many years earlier with the Jazz. He called his time in New Orleans “six of the best years of my life.”

Why he left: The Hornets suffered from shaky management — this was the George Shinn ownership — and the trickle-down fell on Paul. He became unhappy with the club’s direction and said he wouldn’t sign an extension.

Then in 2010, the NBA bought the club and Commissioner David Stern became the de facto general manager. He vetoed a deal that would have made Paul and Bryant teammates with the Lakers. Paul eventually was sent to L.A. … but not the Lakers.

LA Clippers, 2011-17

Relive all the highlight-worthy dunks, plays, buzzer-beaters and more from the ‘Lob City’-era Clippers team!

Highs: The nickname “Point God” took hold in LA, where Paul became a generational talent. He was the soul of “Lob City” and, for a while, made the Clippers the most entertaining basketball team in town.

Quite simply, Paul had a strong case for being the league’s top point guard during this time. He led the league in steals three times and assists twice, made his teammates better and signed his first $100 million contract.

Lows: He never reached the conference finals with LA. That was a serious professional flaw, given the Clippers won 50 or more games in five straight seasons (2012-13 to 2016-17) and all the deserved applause for his skills.

Some of this was due to untimely playoff injuries, to Blake Griffin and also Paul, which shortchanged the Clippers in the postseason. But he didn’t play well when LA blew a 3-1 lead over Houston in 2015.

His impact: Paul’s knack for minimizing mistakes and making perfect passes elevated the performances of his teammates. Once they no longer had him by their side, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan both struggled to find sustained success in their careers.

At some point, he’ll get his Clippers jersey retired. Paul’s only competition for the Greatest Clipper Ever is Griffin.

Why he left: It was time. All the playoff failures took their toll and the Clippers, under new ownership, wanted a fresh start. Paul was the most valuable asset.

Plus, Paul wanted a change — or more money, which the Clippers hesitated to give. He opted into the final year of his contract to facilitate a trade to the Rockets.

Houston Rockets, 2017-19

Highs: Hello, Western Conference Finals as Paul finally experienced that breakthrough in his first season in Houston. He followed up a solid regular season with a 41-point (eight 3-pointers), 10-assist masterpiece in Game 5 of the West semis vs. Utah.

Oh, and another fat contract — this one for $160 million — was deposited in the bank.

Lows: He couldn’t stay healthy and couldn’t co-exist with James Harden, either. The first issue kept Paul from the NBA Finals. The second made him last only two seasons in Houston.

Of all the postseason misery suffered by Paul, none was more painful than pulling up with a hamstring strain with a 3-2 lead on the Warriors in the 2018 West Finals.

His impact: Strangely enough, Paul and Harden were fine initially. Two ball-dominant players found a way to make it work … until it didn’t, and that was more due to Harden.

Even stranger, Paul gave Harden his best chance to win a title in Houston, the best Rockets teammate Harden had.

Why he left: The tension between Paul and Harden. And in this situation, Paul couldn’t win. It was Harden’s team. And Harden wanted a new running mate, Russell Westbrook, swapped for Paul.

Oklahoma City Thunder, 2019-20

Highs: Sweet justice was served when Paul scored 28 points in Game 6 to help the young Thunder to a surprising 3-3 tie against his old team, the Rockets, in the first round of the 2020 playoffs. That season, he was an All-Star again after a three-year absence.

Lows: Oklahoma City lost Game 7 to Houston, but placed in the proper context, that wasn’t really considered a low.

His impact: It’s hard to compare what Paul did in his one year in OKC to that of another player. He was traded by the Rockets to a young, rebuilding team with no chance to sniff a title, and little chance to even make the playoffs.

Paul was on the basketball biological clock, and as such could’ve demanded out. Instead, he mentored Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He took a team once built around Westbrook and Paul George further than anyone imagined.

Why he left: With Gilgeous-Alexander groomed and ready — he would eventually become an All-NBA point guard and superstar — OKC was ready to move on from Paul. And his value was high. That one season together was mutually beneficial — it rejuvenated Paul and helped OKC.

Phoenix Suns, 2020-23

Highs: The Suns were up 2-0 on the Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals in Paul’s first season. And what a season it was for Paul, well into his twilight. He made his 11th All-Star team. He had a 41-point closeout playoff game to reach the Finals. He also became the first player with 20,000 points and 10,000 assists.

Oh, and he signed another $100 million contract.

Lows: That 2-0 lead in the Finals proved slippery when the Bucks won the next four. After averaging 27.5 ppg and 8.5 apg in Games 1 and 2, Paul cooled a bit the rest of the Finals (19 ppg, 8 apg) and played with a gimpy wrist that would require off-season surgery.

Even worse, the Suns blew a 2-0 lead to Dallas in the West semis in 2022, eventually falling in Game 7 at home (where they lost by 33 points). It was the fifth time Paul lost a series after going up 2-0, the only player in NBA history to do that.

His impact: For a fleeting moment, Paul and the Suns had a chance to win their first title. Once again, he was a missing piece who came along and freed Devin Booker from point guard duties.

And this was done while Paul began a noticeable decline — nothing too drastic, but still evident over his final two seasons in Phoenix.

Why he left: As part of an organizational restructuring that began with ownership, Paul was essentially swapped for Bradley Beal. Phoenix went forward with a fresh Big 3 of Booker, Beal and Kevin Durant.

For the first time in his career, a team traded Paul because it thought it found an upgrade.

And now, a comeback: Averaging 7 apg to 1.3 turnovers per game, Golden State considers him as an upgrade over Jordan Poole.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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