Name: Chris Paul
Weight: 175 lbs.
Position: Point God
Experience: 10 years
* indicates league leader
Contract Information: $21,468,696 this season, $22,868,828 next season, and a player option for $24,268,960 in 2017-18
I think it's safe to say that we don't have to talk too much about what Chris Paul does on the court: it's everything. The truth is that no one player can be the engine of an offense, and for this team Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick all share that load, but one player can be the steering wheel, and that's certainly CP3. His control of pace, his headiness, his savvy--all are world-class, and he knows exactly how to use his physical tools to his advantage while limiting the liability of being a small player without possessing the speed and jumping ability of some of the younger point guards in the league. Somehow he turns those tools into a stubborn defensive stopper, sometimes guarding players 6" or more taller than him, and an acrobatic finisher in the lane, getting his floaters off against 7-footers.
Chris Paul doesn't have anything left to prove when it comes to individual skills on the basketball court. The Clippers will of course need him to continue his excellence at point guard, where he pulls off the ever-so-rare feat of averaging double-digit assists. The question mark for CP3 this season, for maybe the first time in his career, is in the locker room, in the huddle, on the practice court. He's always been praised as a leader, driving everyone on his team towards greatness, but over the last few months millions have watched as his hard-nosed style almost ended the Clippers' title chances for 2016 not long after they ended in 2015.
The headlines in DeAndre Jordan's brief spell of wanting to leave the Clippers noted that a big factor in DJ leaving was Paul's style of leadership. It's hard to blame one of the league's premier centers for not appreciating being yelled at like a little kid both in private and when the clock is ticking. Paul's determination and demeanor seemingly reached a point last season where instead of inspiring and driving his teammates forward, it broke them apart. That's why, for the rest of his career, Chris Paul will not be playing to prove his skill or his savvy or his toughness, but rather he'll be playing for his legacy--and to determine if that legacy will include the words "leader", "winner", and "champion".
We all know that Paul has never been to a Western Conference Finals. It doesn't make him any less of a player. He doesn't shrink in the playoffs, rather, he stands out. I'm a firm believer that just because a player has won a championship, it doesn't mean they were any better than a player at that position who didn't. I still think that Chris Paul is better than Stephen Curry (chill, Warriors fans, cause I love Steph's game), even though Curry has a ring and Paul hasn't seen a conference finals. The ring doesn't weigh into that debate. But when we debate years from now about top point guards and talk about who has a better legacy, who was a better teammate, who was a better leader--can we say for sure that Chris Paul is that guy if the dust settled today? It seems almost sacrilegious, but that's how some Clippers fans and most national fans see Paul, with nicknames like "little tyrant" floating around, even in circles of Clippers supporters!
Basketball is, by nature, forgiving. With rare exceptions when the stakes are highest, there's always a next shot, a next play, a next game, a next year. The dust isn't settling on Chris Paul's legacy today, but it's up to him to shape it, and this season could be his best chance. Doc has already said that this core roster could be getting stale, and the national media seems to be in line with the sentiment that this could be the last year that this core sticks together. Even if the team stays together, after next season Paul and co-star Blake Griffin will both be able to opt out of their contracts. The obvious hope is that both will stay with the Clippers, but who the hell knows what the future will hold, and with Paul already on the wrong side of 30, he may only have a handful of campaigns left as a leading superstar. He may never get as good of a shot at a title as he has this year, or in these next two years.
Typically, I've entered the season saying that Chris Paul is a constant, a known quantity, and amazing in his own right, but by no means an x-factor. He'll give the team superstar production, but the varying contributions of others will determine if the team flies or flops. This year, it's a little different. He still has the least to prove on the court of anyone out there, but for Chris Paul, there's more on the line than ever.