The Los Angeles Clippers’ loss to the Utah Jazz in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs may have done more than end their season. We could possibly see an overhaul of one of the league’s most frustrating teams.
The Clippers’ core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan has been together since the 2011-12 season, and in that time, the team has suffered some excruciating losses.
There was the defeat at the hands of the Thunder in the 2014 Conference Semifinals. In OKC for Game 5, Paul threw away a chance to take home a 3-2 lead in a horribly officiated series. The Clips would lose Game 6, and the series, at home.
The next year, a woefully top-heavy LA team had the Rockets dead to rights at home in Game 6 of the Conference Semifinals, up 3-2. What was a 19-point with two and a half minutes left in the third period turned into a furious Houston comeback, featuring James Harden sulking on the bench (?), Corey Brewer making huge plays (??) and a red-hot Josh Smith hitting clutch threes (???). A historic collapse ended with a predictable Game 7 loss in Houston.
And the last two years’ playoff runs have ended prematurely due to injuries to Paul and Griffin. With both stars able to hit free agency this summer, it seems inevitable that the Clippers will get them under contract and keep plugging away. That’s all they’ve ever done with this group.
However, it seems clear that this cast just doesn’t get it done. They’ve never made it to the Conference Finals. They haven’t beaten the Warriors since 2014. LA has had as little playoff success as a team with their talent can have.
For too long, Paul has toiled away on a team that just wasn’t quite good enough to get him that chip a player of his caliber deserves.
His GM, who is also his coach, never had enough time to truly devote himself to the player evaluation and acquisition aspect of his job. Paul has been stuck on a team that doesn’t have enough wings and plays two non-shooting bigs in a league where that is no longer acceptable.
If Paul wants to have a chance to win a championship, he has to leave LA. He has to turn down the extra money he could have with the Clippers and sign with a contender who needs his services to get over the hump. He needs to go somewhere that has a strong franchise structure and a culture of winning. He needs to sign with the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs won 61 games this year on the back of Kawhi Leonard and coach Gregg Popovich’s perfect touch, despite the lack of a true creating guard in a league where playmakers are at a premium.
Tony Parker is nearing the end, as we have seen much of his signature quickness with the ball sap out of his body. He can still be a useful backup, but his time as a viable starting guard has come to a close.
Patty Mills is a good player and great shooter. He fits perfectly with the Spurs’ emphasis on team play and fitting a role. He just isn’t good enough to go head to head with the Westbrooks, Currys, and Hardens of the world.
And Dejounte Murray, the Spurs’ first round draft pick this year, isn’t ready yet. He needs a mentor, a true professional, a master of the nuances of the point guard position.
Enter Chris Paul, Point God.
Even if he has lost a half step, CP3 is still one of the league’s best four point guards. He was the only reason the Clippers took the Jazz to a Game 7 after Griffin went down with his injury, masterfully distributing to his teammates for most of the game, then taking over in the last few minutes.
Not only do the Spurs need a player like Paul, he needs them. Paul has acquired a reputation as a maestro in the regular season who falls apart in the postseason. In contrast, the Spurs have taken players like Danny Green and Jonathan Simmons from the NBA scrap heap to being big contributors on contenders.
One of Paul’s biggest problems all these years has been that he hasn’t been capable of dominating an entire game when his team really needed him. That won’t be an issue in San Antonio. Paul can set up Leonard and all the role players around him, then play off Kawhi in crunch time.
But Paul’s biggest issue has always been his organizations. At first he was in New Orleans, which is the basketball version of Dante’s Inferno. Then he went to LA, had to deal with Donald Sterling, and then Doc Rivers’ inability to put the right players around him (Doc’s inability to find a viable small forward and his propensity to acquire bad players who once torched his teams were charming parts of his ineptitude).
The Spurs can get the most out of Paul. If he goes to San Antonio, Popovich will use him in all the right ways; rest him as his body wears down, put the ball in his hands when needed, tell Kawhi to take over when Paul can’t, and take Paul deep into the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Paul turns 32 today, May 6. He’s running out of time. That doesn’t mean he should take a hugely reduced role, however. If he goes to the Cavaliers, he will always catch flak for riding LeBron to whatever playoff success he achieves. Aside from the fact that both players need the ball in their hands, Cleveland isn’t the best scenario for Paul because he deserves to be the leading man on his team, or at least share the limelight.
We’re talking about one of the seven greatest point guards of all time, by any statistical measure. Just watch this:
There’s a reason he’s called Point God; he has blended efficiency, volume, and production as well as any guard ever. But he lacks the team success that would propel him into a new stratosphere of respect and admiration. If Paul wants to be remembered as one of the true greats, the Spurs are the team for him.