Will LA Clippers' Playoff Success Impact Chris Paul's 2013 Free Agency?

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2013

Apr 12, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) drives the ball down court during the second half against the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena. Los Angeles defeated New Orleans 96-93. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

Los Angeles Clippers star point guard Chris Paul will be an NBA free agent in the summer of 2013, and he has mentioned a couple times that he's not ready to rule out a departure from Tinseltown.

His elite passing skills and unselfish play have changed the culture of the franchise since December of 2011, and he's helped Blake Griffin become even more dangerous than he already was.

Paul has broken countless Clippers records and led the club to its first division title in history. He could accomplish a lot more if he decides to stay, but there's always the temptation that the grass is greener, and the ceiling is higher, in another city.

Even though he's leaning heavily toward returning to Los Angeles, Paul's openness to change begs the question: Will his free-agency decision depend on the level of Lob City's 2013 NBA playoff success?


If the Clippers excel in the postseason

In the event that Vinny Del Negro's club reaches the Western Conference Finals or NBA Finals, Paul will almost certainly return on a five-year contract. Of course, a championship would be the ultimate sign he's in the right place.

A deep run in the playoffs would re-emphasize how strong the Clippers are and how close they are to reaching their potential as an organization. The combination of talent and youth already in place is something scarcely seen across the league.

Losing to a team like the Spurs or Nuggets in the conference finals shouldn't be a justification for him to search the free-agent market more aggressively.

The competitor in Paul will try to find a way to finish what he started and get Los Angeles over the hump in 2014.

If it's clear that the Clippers are close to a title in the near future, he won't risk venturing elsewhere for equal or worse odds.


If the Clippers flounder in the postseason

It's not far-fetched to think that Los Angeles could lose to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round or bow out early in the second round.

The Clippers defeated the Grizzlies in the first round in 2012, so losing to them in the same round in 2013 would be a demoralizing way to end the season. It would be frustrating because it seems like Los Angeles was built for more.

A more likely disappointing exit would be a quick second-round loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. If LA is upended in four or five games, the squad will seem vastly inferior to the elite NBA squads.

Dismaying scenarios such as these won't be the ultimate factors that push Paul out the door, but they would definitely spark more doubt in his mind.

At that point, destinations such as the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz would seem a bit more attractive.

Mark Cuban's Mavericks will make a run at him, with enough cap room to offer him a max contract as well as adding another significant free agent.

The Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Jazz are two other clubs that have winning pieces plus ample salary space entering 2013-14. The Hawks could have as little as $18.6 million on the books entering free agency, while the Jazz could have all but $17.8 million cleared.

If Paul were to jump from LA to join a team like Dallas, it would be a massive blow to the Clippers. They wouldn't miss his physical attributes and playmaking talent as much as his intangibles, leadership and knack for directing a high-octane attack.

But will a lack of success in the playoffs ultimately steer his decision?


The verdict

Chris Paul is a smart man who has surrounded himself with well-intentioned people looking out for his best interests. He's going to choose his future destination based on his chances of winning and his opportunities to build his brand and be prosperous.

No matter what happens to his club on the floor over the next few weeks, he'll come to the conclusion that the Clippers are his best long-term fit.

Firstly, he's not going to find a better basketball situation. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are both 24 years old and have tons of mileage for championship runs left in them. Other potential teammates, such as Dwight Howard, have significantly less juice left over a five-year span.

Then, there's the almighty dollar.

The opportunity to re-create a Miami Big Three situation in which Paul and other superstars take less money to team together is highly unlikely. Therefore, he should find the best deal possible. Since his current team can offer him more money than any outside suitors, the Clippers have the inside track.

Lastly, it's a simple matter of location. Los Angeles is an ideal place to pursue success, and future free-agent role players will be more inclined to join him in southern California than almost anywhere else.

When the dust settles, the Clippers' 2013 playoff outcome won't factor much into the most important decision of Chris Paul's career.