The Los Angeles Clippers' "Lob City" experiment had a successful first season, locking in the fifth seed in the Western Conference and making it to the second round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. We know Lob City has been renewed for at least one more season... but after that? What are the chances that both superstars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are with the squad in the 2013-14 season?
Big man Griffin is locked in—he has agreed to a five year, $95 million dollar extension with the Clippers that will start in the 2013-2014 season. Unless the Clippers suddenly decide to trade him (hell will freeze over, pigs will fly, and DeAndre Jordan will make 100 free throws in a row before that happens), Blake is securely a Clipper for the immediate future.
But what about superstar point guard Chris Paul? That prospect is a bit murkier... but not by a ton. Calm yourselves worried Clippers fans... not even the horrible Clippers luck should make you fear Paul would leave.
Yes, Griffin was injured his left knee yesterday in a Team USA scrimmage, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! sports. He will miss the Olympics, but as ESPN reported late Thursday night, he will be ready to go by the beginning of next season. Simply put: unless Griffin goes down with a big injury, or proves himself to be a terrifying injury risk, it’s a very good chance Paul will stay long term.
Paul turned down a three-year, $60 million extension with the Clippers this summer that would have locked him in until the 2015-16 season. Obviously the sign of a man who wants out, right? Chris Paul has already given up on the Clippers, prepare for the crazy free agent summer of 2013! Where will Chris Paul sign?! Early money is on the Lakers!
Of course, Paul could just be thinking intelligently. To quote Kurt Helin of NBC Sports, "one of the quirks of the new CBA that it is in the financial interest of players to become free agents and re-sign with the same team rather than to just sign an extension with their team." As Helin then points out, if Paul plays the season, becomes a free agent and then re-signs with the Clippers next summer, he can get a five-year, $105 million contract.
The new CBA, agreed upon last season, does give a lot more power (aka spending money) to teams when they're trying to re-sign their free agents. Can you see Paul—or any player, for that matter—walking away from that kind of payday?
It's not all about money, of course. According to Bill Hanstock of SBNation Los Angeles, "Paul stressed that he would wait until next summer to decide whether he wants to remain in Los Angeles for the long haul." Paul could conceivably leave that kind of money on the table, but where would he go?
It's hard to get an exact handle on which teams could have significant cap space next summer to sign Paul to a max deal, but some early guesses would be Atlanta, Phoenix, Cleveland, Houston, Toronto, New Orleans and Dallas. Things can change incredibly quickly (we're in the midst of a fluid free agency, of course) but let's just work through that list.
Atlanta is a big dark-horse right now for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. They swapped Joe Johnson to Brooklyn in cost cutting measures and could have the cap-space next season to sign two max contracts—conceivably, Howard and Paul. Yet can anyone see Howard sign with Atlanta after pinning for a big city like New York? I can't, and with no Dwight, there is far less incentive for Paul to sign with the Hawks.
Phoenix is as devoid of talent as any squad in the league, so we can crop them out as well. Toronto isn't that much better, and they just acquired Kyle Lowry. Cleveland already has a star point guard in Kyrie Irving. Houston could be a possibility, if the Rockets pull off a deal for Howard. So could Dallas, and owner Mark Cuban has been sacrificing everything he can in an effort to get big name talent to join the Mavericks—of course, that didn't work out so well with Deron Williams.
That leaves New Orleans. Could Paul go running back to the Hornets just two years after he so publicly wanted out? Of course, that was before the Hornets had Anthony Davis... not to mention Eric Gordon, who the Clippers traded for Paul. Still, even with two young stars, it's hard to see Paul going back to New Orleans.
And then it comes back to Los Angeles, with the bigger payday and what looks like the best chance to compete.Things could change in the next few months, they always do... the Charlotte Bobcats could stun the world with a Dwight Howard trade and then convince Paul to join forces in one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history! But at least for now, the smart money is easily in the Clippers' favor.
Chances that Blake Griffin is a Clipper in 2013-14? Ninety-nine-point-nine percent. Chances that Chris Paul is a Clipper in 2013-14? At least 70 percent, if not higher.