With the news that Chris Paul, the all-everything point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers will be opting out of his current contract with the team to test free agency after years of playoff futility, the question bears asking: Is this the end of the Clippers? Now, the fact that Paul is opting out doesn’t necessarily mean that he is leaving Los Angeles. Star players opt out of their deals early all the time when their contract allows them in order to test the free agent waters and eventually re-sign with their current team for a boat-load of money. Luckily for Paul (or maybe more-so, luckily for the Clippers), the way the current NBA collective bargaining agreement is structured he can make tens of millions of dollars more just by staying put. So opting out could just be a smokescreen that would lead to an eventual monetary windfall for one of the best point guards in the game.
Unfortunately, here to throw a monkey wrench in that deal is the San Antonio Spurs, yes, those Spurs. The same Spurs that were never a high-profile free agent destination, the same Spurs that have always been built through the draft and through whatever mystical ceremony Popovich is able to conjure up over his glass of wine. Now, the Spurs are the front-runners to obtain Paul’s services next year. This, of course, is in direct response to the Golden State Warriors and their “super team”. Paul knows that the Clippers, as they are currently constructed will be unable to compete, and have been unable to compete with the top teams in the West. Instead, he is doing what he can to earn that elusive championship before the sun sets on a hall of fame career. Paul is the anti-Carmelo, sacrificing money and fame to team up and get his ring. While Carmelo is happy being the highest paid player on his team by a large margin, regardless of the fact that it handcuffs management to finding bit-players to help him out, it looks like Paul wants more than that.
Paul is going the other way, presumably. If he signs with the Spurs, he is recognizing that the only way to beat the Warriors is to create a team like the Warriors, with one glaring difference. The Spurs will always have the best coach on the floor. Now I realize that this flies in the face of yesterday’s post which said the NBA coaches do not matter. While I still believe that, I think there is one coach that transcends that argument…and he’s about to land the best point guard of his generation.
This would be great news for Paul, and it would be great news for the Spurs, obviously. What makes it even better is the cache that Paul brings. A team of Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge is a team that will collect free agents. Popovich and the Spurs have been able to do wonders with players near or at the ends of their careers throughout his tenure. Now, they may be able to squeeze a few more years out of these players that may find the idea of joining up with the Spurs in their prime to fight the “Evil Empire” that is the Warriors a bit more palatable.
Chris Paul to the Spurs would not just be good for him, and for the Spurs, it would be good for basketball. It would, however, be horrible for the Clippers who would have to start over. Chris Paul, even at this stage of his career, is the only player on that roster that you can build around. If he spurns big money for big opportunity, it will take years of rebuilding for the Clippers to even be competitive again. We’ll see what happens when NBA free agency hits, but this could be a shakeup the league has not seen in years.