PHOENIX (AP) — Chris Paul is a little uncomfortable with the notion that he comes to the Phoenix Suns as a wise veteran player who can impart his knowledge to the next generation of stars.
Sure, he knows he’s in his mid-30s and time isn’t going backward. Yes, he’s ready to pair with Devin Booker, who just turned 24 and is one of the game’s top young scorers. And certainly, after 15 years, 1,020 regular-season games and 109 postseason games, he’s learned a few things along the way.
But just because he’s got a Ph.D. in NBA basketball doesn’t mean he’s coming to the desert to be a professor.
“I’m not James Naismith by no means,” Paul said grinning. “It’s fun for me. First things first, I’m not just coming here to teach everybody. I’m (Booker’s) teammate. We’re here to hoop, we’re here to compete and that’s the way I approach this.”
Paul, 35, showed he can still play at a high level last season in Oklahoma City, making his 10th All-Star team while averaging 17.6 points and 6.7 assists per game. He’ll be surrounded by Booker, who made his first All-Star game last season, and Deandre Ayton, a talented 7-footer who was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in 2018.
Now they’ll team with Paul, who knows he has a reputation as a demanding teammate. He said his leadership style has evolved over the years, but he’s still just as driven to win as ever.
“I’m not saying it’s always right, I’m not saying it’s for everybody,” Paul said. “But I’ll never ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.”
The Suns haven’t made the playoffs since 2010 but are coming off an encouraging season. They finished 34-39 after going 8-0 in the NBA’s restart bubble in Florida and narrowly missed a spot in the postseason.
GM James Jones still felt the Suns needed another star player to continue their rise and made one of the biggest moves of the offseason when he acquired Paul and Abdel Nader from the Thunder while sending Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque to Oklahoma City.
Rubio and Oubre were two big pieces in the Suns’ rise last season, and coach Monty Williams praised them both, but said adding a future Hall of Fame-caliber point guard was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“We added a first-ballot Hall of Fame point guard to our team,” Williams said. “Obviously, that comes with a bit of sacrifice, but we felt like it was one that was worth the risk. We felt like there wasn’t much negative risk.”
Paul and Williams reunite nearly 10 years after the two were together in New Orleans. Back then, Paul was a rising young star and Williams was a rookie head coach. They finished 46-36 in 2011 and lost in the first round of the playoffs before Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It was one of the most special years that I remember,” Paul said. “I think we lost every preseason game and then started the season like 11-1 because it’s all about principles and building.”
Now the two get to build something together in Phoenix, which hasn’t been a true threat in the Western Conference since guys like Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Grant Hill were on the floor.
Paul thrived in a similar role with Oklahoma City last season. Not much was expected of the inexperienced Thunder, but they finished with a 44-28 record and pushed the Houston Rockets to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
Paul said having a young team is sometimes a good thing because it’s a clean slate.
“The biggest thing I learned last year is you can write your own story,” Paul said. “I think that was the big thing our team did. We didn’t care — no offense to any of y’all — we didn’t care about your predictions or what your expectations are. You aren’t in the locker room with us. We’re the ones who have to do the work.”