And that, as they say, is that. The deal that apparently couldn’t be closed was finalized and the superstar who kept being told he was going nowhere is gone. By now, everyone knows that Chris Paul is officially a Los Angeles Clipper, where he will throw lobs to Blake Griffin that will be available on highlight DVDs and YouTube clips for years to come. In his place come in Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 1st round draft pick.
And, if I’m honest, the Clippers are a good place for CP3 to go. The pressure he will face there won’t be the same as the pressure he’d have faced by going the Lakers (and being the next great Laker guard). There’s young talent around him (Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, Randy Foye, Eric Bledsoe) but he still remains the alpha dog – unlike the rumored moves to Golden State or the Lakers, there’s no other ball-demanding player he would have had to share the rock with. He’s the undisputed #1 star of his team in the second biggest American TV market and will likely help the Clippers attain unimaginable presence in La-La Land. Bill Simmons just creamed his pants.
But obviously, the team that will be most impacted by the trade is the team that he leaves behind; the New Orleans Hornets. Even if, in the end, the Hornets got everything they wanted, it still will have repercussions for the coaches, the front office staff and the fans. Gone is, without a doubt, the best player this team has had in the decade it’s been here. Gone is the face of the team in New Orleans. Gone is the belief that the team can just keep on functioning while the NBA acts as a custodian.
Because whatever you can say about what the NBA got in return for him, the fact is that they severely undercut GM Dell Demps’ legs to do so. David Stern and his cronies brushed him aside to take over the Paul proceedings in spite of everything they had told themselves, the Hornets and the rest of the NBA. What belief will opposite GMs have in Demps when he begins shopping around Chris Kaman’s expiring contract in a couple of months? What are the chances you think “Will this deal go through” if you are dealing in any way, shape or form with the New Orleans Hornets?
The problem is that it just reinforces the negative mindset that many around the nation (including many in the media) have regarding this team in this city. That folks in New Orleans do not care for the NBA’s product or the Hornets. That no one goes to see them or supports them. That there’s no sense in keeping this team here because it’s inevitably doomed to failure. That all parties would be better served with the team being moved to Seattle (poor, poor Seattle who lost their beloved Sonics) or Las Vegas (bright lights, big party city!) or anywhere else – else being code for “better.”
But none of that should affect how we see Chris Paul’s time in New Orleans. For however his departure came, he was a consummate professional and role model. If anything, he stuck with this team in spite of the many surprises that his time here involved. Lest we forget, he was drafted the same year as Hurricane Katrina. He didn’t play his first game in New Orleans until January 2006 and was forced to split his first two “home” seasons between New Orleans and Oklahoma City. He managed to avoid turning off one fanbase for the other as the OKC screws turned on George Shinn to sell the team and move it there. He was always the perfect face for the team, wherever it was. He ended his first year by winning Rookie of the Year. Not bad for the kid passed over for Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams and Deron Williams and best known for a cheap shot to an opponent’s crotch in a college game.
When the team was back for good in 2007, Chris Paul and the team flourished. They stormed off to a great start and battled the Lakers for the #1 seed in the Western Conference. They won the Southwest Division, achieved their best regular season record ever and finished #2 overall thanks in great deal to how Paul blossomed into one of the premier NBA superstars. He averaged 21.1 points per game, 11.6 assists per game, 2.7 steals per game while only averaging 2.52 turnovers per game. The Hornets eventually lost in a 7-game brawl against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2nd round. But that didn’t matter because the Hornets were the toast of the town. The games became must see events.
This continued through the next season as the team finished again in the playoffs and Chris Paul’s numbers, surprisingly, got even better (22.8 ppg, 11.0 apg, 2.8 spg, 2.51 to). A first-round exit at the hands of the Denver Nuggets was their unfortunate demise. Looking back, this 2007 through 2009 run was to be the best of the Chris Paul-David West axis. Knee injuries took their toll in the coming years – in 2009 it was Chris Paul and in 2010, it was David West. Still, CP3 had one more bit of magic for us this year when he pushed and pulled and dragged the Hornets into the playoffs to face off and terrorize the aforementioned Lakers. He made Sean Marks and Jason Smith a terror for the championship frontcourt of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. He took on Kobe Bryant and beat him at his own game. He looked like the CP3 of years past. Alas, it was not enough and the Hornets lost the series.
While I’m disappointed in his departure, I don’t begrudge it to him nor do I hold any negative feelings. He served the team and the community to the best of his abilities. He understood that being a high-profile face in New Orleans involved championing it to the world and was involved in all sorts of community efforts. He spoke well of being here and was as determined a competitor as anyone could want. In an era of big-money stars who think they can just coast to a title, Chris Paul is the antithesis. He fights and barks and scraps and will not go down meekly. (No 4th quarter disappearing acts for this superstar).
So goodbye Chris Paul and thank you. And welcome to Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and Chris Kaman. The Hornets are now in your hands. And you’ve big shoes to fill.