Chris Paul has become the most coveted free agent on the market this offseason after telling the Los Angeles Clippers he is opting out of his contract and exploring his options in free agency.
Paul is set to meet with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets during the free agency period, with the Rockets becoming a serious threat to acquire the 9-time NBA All Star.
Despite only playing in 61 games last season, Paul averaged 18.1 points per game and 9.2 assists per game with a 26.2 PER. However, the Clippers experienced another postseason mishap as star forward Blake Griffin was ruled out of the playoffs with a toe injury. Paul wasn’t able to carry the side on his own as they bowed out of the playoffs once again. These postseason failures has had Paul thinking about joining legitimate contenders in the West in the Rockets and Spurs in an effort to knock the Golden State Warriors off their throne.
But will joining these teams help Paul reach that elusive Conference finals appearance? Or is he better off having another go with a Clippers side that has failed to reach their potential every year?
Let’s breakdown each team involved in the Chris Paul sweepstakes:
Denver Nuggets: The least likely of the contenders to sign Chris Paul. The Nuggets are a young team on the rise thanks to a five-year rebuilding project, where they have shown their ability to draft and develop players well. Just look at Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris as examples. They just missed the playoffs last season because of a buzzer-beater from Russell Westbrook, but they are clearly a star or two away from being a top-4 side in the West. Unfortunately, CP3 is in a win-now mode and the Nuggets are currently not at that stage just yet. As well as that, the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement (which we’ll get to later) works against Denver. The Clippers can offer Paul a 5-year/$205M contract, while the best the Nuggets (and every other team for that matter) can offer is a 4-year/$152M deal, even if they let Danilo Gallinari walk in free agency.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are an intriguing option for Paul, and personally, the team I feel CP3 should sign with should he leave the Clippers. The idea of Chris Paul teaming with a top-5 player in Kawhi Leonard is sure to make Warriors fans nervous. San Antonio are currently making moves in an attempt to create cap room to sign Paul. Pau Gasol has declined his player option in order to re-sign and take a pay cut. Danny Green and LaMarcus Aldridge have both been put on the trade block. A combination of these players (as well as Tony Parker) would have to be moved in order for the Spurs to make a run at CP3. But even if they do sign one of the best point guards in the league, the Spurs lose a bit of depth that’s needed to compete against Golden State. As well as that, the styles of both sides on the court doesn’t seem to mesh well. The Spurs are all about unselfishness, whereas Paul is a ball-dominant guard, so CP would have to sacrifice his playing style in order to compete for a ring. Another reason this pairing may not work is the culture built at the Spurs. The Clippers for a long time have been known to flop in the middle of games and complain about decisions made by refs and Paul is the player who epitomizes these acts on the court. Imagine what would happen if Paul brought this “culture” to San Antonio under Gregg Popovich?
Houston Rockets: The Rockets have emerged as serious threats to sign Chris Paul, with James Harden directly pitching to Paul the idea of the two pairing up in Houston. But why would Harden do that? He excelled in the point guard spot last season, leading the league in assists and finishing runner-up in the MVP race behind Russell Westbrook. Harden would have to sacrifice his ball-handling duties to another player who loves having the ball in his hands. Remember when Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant teamed up in Los Angeles and how well that turned out? The Rockets under NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni (who just so happened to be the coach in LA when Nash and Kobe were together) have established one of the best offenses in the league thanks to their seven-seconds-or-less offensive set. However, Paul loves playing at a slower pace, which may cause problems between Paul and D’Antoni. Despite this, Paul would be able to penetrate and find open shooters on a side which set an NBA record with 1,181 made three-pointers last season. However, Houston would have to move a combination of Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza or Lou Williams in order to create enough cap space to sign CP3.
Los Angeles Clippers: At some point, it’s time to say enough is enough and this may be what Paul is thinking by opting out of his contract. The Clippers have yet to make it out of the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, something which has become a running joke in the career of Chris Paul. Both Paul and Blake Griffin have struggled to stay healthy over the past five years and the other member of their Big 3, DeAndre Jordan, still has his limitations and has been a liability for the Clippers thanks to his free-throw shooting. The Clippers are in desperate need of a starting-caliber wing and re-signing both Paul and Griffin may affect the amount of cap space Los Angeles needs to spend on a strong wing player. Bringing back the Clippers’ core would send them back to square one, something which isn’t ideal for both the Clippers and CP3 himself.
So why will Chris Paul re-sign with the Clippers?
MONEY. The NBA introduced a new collective bargaining agreement which allowed “super-max contracts”. The man who fought for these super-max contracts? National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul. Paul qualifies for a super-max contract with the Clippers and it would be ironic if Paul didn’t accept this deal. What the Clippers can offer Paul thanks to this new rule is a 5-year/$205 million contract.
JERRY WEST. The Clippers recently acquired Jerry West as a consultant. West was previously with the Golden State Warriors, where he was a key part of building a roster which would end up winning two NBA Championships. Would adding West to LA help take the Clippers to the next level? There are concerns with this however. The Logo may decide to break up the Clippers franchise completely and rebuild from scratch. Or, he could establish a new core around Chris Paul, replacing Blake Griffin with LeBron James in 2018. There are endless possibilities with Jerry West, but his addition is sure to help Doc Rivers make the correct executive decisions. Paul would also get a say in these decisions, as he is the face of the franchise. This sort of power is something that CP3 wouldn’t get in places like San Antonio and Houston.
LUCK. This is really a silly reason, but let’s ask ourselves: what would’ve happen if the Clippers didn’t collapse in 2014? If both Paul and Griffin didn’t get injured in 2016? If Griffin didn’t get hurt in 2017? Paul re-signing with the Clippers would give him five more years with the Clippers. Which means five more chances with presumably the same core to get it right. But so many things would have to happen for the Clippers to be a championship contender. Blake Griffin would have to firstly re-sign, then stay healthy. Doc Rivers will need to establish some young stars (Brice Johnson, Diamond Stone, Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell) to help LA. DeAndre Jordan would have to make his free throws. If all these fall into the place, can the Clippers finally live up to their potential? It’s better for Paul to work with what he knows rather than move to a completely new team. And Golden State. How long can they keep their core together? I doubt they’ll still be this dominant in 3-4 years time. If Paul signs with the Spurs or Rockets, he won’t win a championship as long as Golden State are still around. So until then, should the Clippers develop and build a squad around Paul and wait until the Golden State era is over? Or at least try to compete in the playoffs without the “Clippers curse” taking effect.
Yes, I believe so.
Therefore, the best move for Chris Paul this offseason is to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers.