The (not so) Quiet Anguish of Chris Paul

AND: the case for keeping Lob City together

LA Clippers

Before the LA Clippers lost to the Utah Jazz yesterday, before Chris Paul and Blake Griffin struggled through another injury-plagued, disappointment-ridden season, Howard Beck wrote about them in Bleacher Report. Beck’s piece was from mid-October, and was a primer for which teams had a chance to ever beat the Warriors. Since the Clippers had more continuity and talent than nearly everyone else, they featured prominently within.

Beck included some quotes from Paul. The lines below are on the 2016 summer and the (then) upcoming season:

“It ain’t changed nothing,” Paul said, a bit curtly. “It ain’t changed nothing. It’s another summer of free agency.”
In a matter of minutes, his impassive stare has given way to irritation and, finally, defiance.
“As you can see,” Paul said, “I’m not sitting here, like, fazed.”

Compare this defiant spirit in October with yesterday’s press conference. For Paul, this has become sadly all too common. From NBA.com:

As Paul also said when a question began, “You’ve been down this road before…”:
“Yeah. Too many times.”
And now they’re back on it, deep along the highway and about to reach another intersection.
“Luckily that’s not my job, know what I mean?” Paul deflected. “That’s not my job. My job is to come in, try to make sure I’m in the best shape possible, try to lead our team and stuff like that. That’s not my job to maneuver who’s here and who’s there.”

The competitiveness of October is replaced with the resignation and defeat of May, an outcome that has become all too common for one of the league’s premier point guards. Twitter has been absolutely consumed with reflections on Paul’s greatness over the past few 24 hours. Countless journalists and bloggers reflect on the clash between his immense skill and desultory playoff record, mostly concluding that he can’t be blamed for his team’s early exits.

Personally, I don’t really care whose fault it is. Paul is a generational talent, and no matter whose fault it is, he hasn’t ever reached ultimate success. For some players, that’s enough. For many others (I think Paul probably fits with them), it isn’t. And now, he has to choose between staying put on his team and finding another. Financially, he’d be best served staying in LA. Competitively, he should try to find another team.

I think the Clippers could do far worse than keeping this team around. Blake, Paul, and Jordan will never win a championship as long as the Warriors are around, and they’ll all have aged out of competitiveness by the time Golden State is old. But with a bare cupboard of future assets, and the ability to keep a top-6 team around, I have no problem with running it back again. I also don’t have a problem with these players leaving. It’s their decision, after all, and it may not matter what Doc Rivers and Steve Ballmer want to do.

In a sense, Paul’s struggle has been quiet. I can only imagine the pressure of having to constantly hear about your playoff defeats, and the sting from games like last night has to be a slow burn rather than a quick moment of anguish. It also has been incredibly loud, though. The uproar, whether twitter or TV, has been near-constant. And Paul himself has a pretty loud personality.

I don’t care where Paul falls on the pantheon of “best” NBA players or the top point guards of all time. “Player x vs Player y” debates often bore me, and I’m far more interested in where he goes this summer than anything else right now. Yesterday might have been the straw that breaks the camel’s back (the camel is the Clippers, for anyone who’s wondering). It also might not. Whether Paul chooses money or competitiveness this summer, he’s had a great career and a good run with team that was consistently good. He’s also faced his share of disappointment, though, and we saw that on clear display this season.

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