The Clippers’ dysfunction is wasting the prime of Chris Paul

Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game, and it’s looking more and more like he might never play in an NBA Finals.

This is a bummer, because if the Clippers (and the Hornets before them) had done a few things differently, history might remember Paul more fondly. Rings still matter when determining a player’s legacy, and Paul might never get one. The Clippers shoulder a lot of that responsibility, and the latest incident, which saw Blake Griffin punching an equipment manager and breaking his hand, is not a good sign.

In 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina, my roommate and I went in on season tickets to what was then the New Orleans Hornets. Chris Paul was the star of that team, but he was more than that. He was a genius. He was the best basketball player I’d ever watched on a night-to-night basis, a man of rare vision and skill who made everything seem easy. He managed a basketball game in a way I’d never seen before. While everyone else ran around, worked hard to get in position, flew around the court, the game seemed to move in slow motion for Paul.

He was lightning quick, of course, but with Paul the game seemed manageable, simple. He’d get to his spot, no matter what, his eyes always up, always prodding, picking apart the defense. When he saw an angle, he’d attack. When he saw a teammate, he’d pass the ball. He was the floor general, the best player, the coach on the floor, the leader. He and Tyson Chandler formed a pick-and-roll tandem that was art.

I got to watch this 41 times (plus playoffs) for a year:

Paul never made the Finals in New Orleans, and frustrated by the tiny market and the team’s inability to put out a championship contender, he asked for a move. He got one, to the Los Angeles Lakers … until every owner flipped out and David Stern canceled the tradein a move I don’t really understand. (When’s the 30 for 30 coming out on that?)

So instead of going to join Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, Paul joined rising stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles with the Clippers. It seemed like a promising move — Paul would bring experience, leadership and pacing to a team that desperately needed it.

There was one problem: Clippers still had owner Donald Sterling, a man shown time and time again to treat his players and employees horribly, who had his own ideas about how a team should be run, and who had a startling track record of failure. Yes, the Clippers had some exciting young talent and a real star in Paul, but there was still Sterling there, looming over everything.

Then a miracle happened. Sterling was outed as the horrible person that he is, and Adam Silver made the extraordinary decision to ban him from the NBA. A sale to Steve Ballmer was put together, and the Clippers had a new, exciting look on life, complete with head coach and team general manager Doc Rivers, who had taken the Boston Celtics to a title in 2008.

… And it looks like it was all for not, because team dysfunction and Rivers’ inability to build a complete roster looks like it’s going to submarine the Clippers’ chances again this year. This summer we had the DeAndre Jordan kidnapping fiasco, and now we have the Blake Griffin punching-an-equipment-manager debacle, and Austin Rivers still features prominently off the bench for the Clippers.

Chris Paul is 30 years old. He’s still an incredible player, averaging near 19 points and over 9 assists a game and shooting near 40% from 3-point line, right on par with his career averages. But how much longer can he keep this up? And how on earth are the Clippers going to catch up with the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs before his inevitable decline?

Paul never won a title in college. (Ask Wake Forest fans about the 2OT loss to West Virginiaand watch them recoil in horror.) He’s now in his 11th season in the NBA, playing for a team that seems destined to win a playoff series then lose in the second round … again. His best teammate is out for 4-6 weeks with a broken hand he got punching a team equipment manager in Toronto. The bench is … well, the Clippers bench is still the Clippers bench. (The team just traded Josh Smith to the Rockets for the rights of a player who hasn’t been in the league, a move that appears to be done just to get Smith off the team.)

Looming over everything are the Warriors and Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder, all teams that appear stronger, more complete, and better coached.

Paul is one of the best point guards to ever play the game, and still doing what he does at age 30. But this can’t last forever, and the Clippers need to figure a lot out if they’re ever going to get him that ring.

Source: MSN Sports

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