Chris Paul and 2013 Free Agency: "I love it here"

When I first saw the headline on Clips Nation, "Chris Paul Remains Ambiguous Toward his Future", I wondered what story I had missed, what interview he had given where he'd sent mixed signals. After all, that very day there was a story by Scott Howard-Cooper on NBA.com in which Paul had been absolutely effusive in his praise for the Clippers. How strange that a story with a different message should hit at the same time.

Then I read what Lucas Hann actually wrote, and it turns out he was talking about the same story. Lucas actually thought the NBA.com story made Paul seem ambiguous about his future with the Clippers. Which made me feel a little like Inigo Montoya: "Are you sure you know what this word means, because I do not think it means what you think it means."

It's not against the rules, nor even is it particularly unusual, for the authors here at Clips Nation to disagree on things, to have different takes, different interpretations on the same events. As it happens, for about five years I wrote the blog almost entirely by myself, and at that time the front page had a monolithic viewpoint -- my viewpoint -- but we've since expanded to include other voices, and that shift has been almost universally positive from my standpoint. It's a good thing.

So from time to time we'll get into a bit of a debate, most notably when John Raffo and I differed on how likely it was that Blake Griffin would re-sign with the Clippers. (I always insisted it was all but guaranteed, while Raffo felt that Griffin might well be a player that was bold enough to eschew a maximum extension and take a shorter route to unrestricted free agency.)

It's interesting to me that we again have a difference of opinion, this time between myself and Lucas, over a similar situation: to wit, how concerned should the citizens of Clips Nation be about the future plans of their superstar (in this case, Paul). The correct answer, once again, is not very concerned.

From dictionary.com:

am·big·u·ous

/æmˈbɪgyuəs/
adjective
1.
open to or having several possible meanings or interpretations; equivocal

Given the nearly infinite capacity of humans to interpret things differently, I suppose that pretty much EVERYTHING is at some level ambiguous. The very fact that Lucas interpreted these statements differently than I did proves that they are ambiguous. His interpretation could be dead wrong (OK, it is dead wrong), but the fact that he has it implies that the statements are open to his interpretation, proving that the statements are technically ambiguous.

The reality though is that the statements Paul made to Howard-Cooper are the least ambiguous we've yet heard from our beloved point guard, and about as unambiguous as anyone in Paul's situation could reasonably be. Short of signing a contract in front of Howard-Cooper, I'm not really sure what else CP3 could have done.

Because until Paul actually signs an extension or a new contract with the Clippers, his situation beyond this season is at some level ambiguous. It goes without saying in the NBA that until a signed contract is in place, strange things can happen. Hedo Turkoglu, Elton Brand -- stuff happen. Even with a contract in place, whether a player will remain with a team into the future is not strictly speaking unambiguous -- you could always have a trade.

Paul has not signed an extension with the Clippers because it is not in his best interests to do so. He can sign for more money and more years if he reaches free agency next summer. Does that also mean he will have other options at that time? Of course it does, and that's in his best interests as well.

But when Paul responds to a direct question about free agency by composing an impromptu love letter to the Clippers, that's a good sign that he'll remain with the team for awhile:

...it's no secret. Everyone knows I love it here. I love our team, I love everything that's going on.

Now Lucas is arguing that of course he'd say something like that. He's here now and it's just happy talk and what would we expect him to say. To which I would say, really? He had to say "I love everything that's going on"? He had to use the word "love" three times in succession to describe his situation? Show me the fall 2009 quote from LeBron James where he used "love" three times to describe his situation in Cleveland.

Realize also that free agency madness is partly self-fulfilling prophecy. There's a feedback loop involved here. Prior to the summer of 2010, when LeBron let it be known that he was going to be available (along with a bunch of other big names), teams began hoarding cap space in order to be able to make one or two or even three maximum free agent offers. That process increased the number of buyers on the free agency market in 2010, which in turn increased the level of the frenzy.

Paul's statements have the opposite effect. He's sending a pretty clear message to potential suitors that he's not likely to leave the Clippers. And more importantly, he knows that he's doing that. If the point of all this was to keep his options open, then openly discussing how much he loves his current situation is the wrong strategy. More teams would be in the market next summer if they believed they had a chance at Paul -- saying "I love it here" keeps potential suitors on the sidelines.

Of course Paul could be saying one thing in public but behaving differently in private. His agent Leon Rose could be putting out the word to teams to start saving up. That's more or less what happened with Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, who were both saying one thing while doing the opposite. But if that's the case with Paul, it won't stay secret long, and would probably be leaked already. Not to mention that Paul is acutely aware of his image -- he doesn't want to look like a hypocrite. If he really wanted to be ambiguous in this situation, he could certainly come up with myriad cliche ways to say "I'm a Clipper now" while keeping his options open.

Paul went on to say "been there done that" and that he wants to focus on basketball, not free agency, which all makes perfect sense. He's already made the decision not to sign an extension. There really is no point for him to dwell on this question again until the off-season, which is what he's trying to do. No matter how hard he tries, of course free agency will be discussed -- but I'd say that Paul did about as much as he could to throw water on the speculative fire.

The points I made in my season preview remain and are bolstered by Tuesday's statements. Paul is happy in L.A. He can make more money in L.A than anywhere else. He has a good competitive situation in L.A. The competitive situation in L.A. is far better than any team that is likely to have the money to pursue him in 2013.

Does that guarantee that he'll be a Clipper next season? Of course not, and I suppose by the dictionary definition that means the situation is ambiguous. But his attitude towards his future with the team is unambiguously positive.

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