Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers completed the franchise's first-ever 50-win campaign in the 2012-13 NBA season, but a first-round playoff exit to the Memphis Grizzlies has rumors swirling about whether or not the All-NBA point guard will choose to stay in Los Angeles this offseason.
Paul is a free agent, and there are 29 other teams clamoring to get their hands on him. .
ESPN NBA analyst Bill Simmons helped spark the rumor mill the morning after L.A.'s loss to Memphis, the first of what promises to be a circus-like approach to figuring out what Paul's future holds this offseason.
Paul averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 assists and a league-high 2.4 steals per game during the 2012-13 season. He was an All-Star for the sixth time in his career and helped the Clippers hit the 56-win mark in the regular season—good for a No. 4 seed out West and a showdown with the Grizzlies.
After winning the first two games of the series, Paul and the Clippers dropped four in a row, losing Game 6 on Friday night 118-105. Paul scored 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting and added eight assists in what was his final game before free agency.
Now, the real fun about his future begins.
If you listen to Paul in the postgame interview above, he doesn't sound like a man ready to re-up with the Clippers the day that free agency opens—something noted by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
While all free agents give us the normal comments that the decision is one that takes some serious thought and that they aren't going to rush into anything, Paul's apparent discomfort with the organization has leaked outside the walls.
That discomfort won't bother interested teams:
Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki are two guys who will be overjoyed to hear the news that Paul is leaning toward weighing his options. That puts the Dallas Mavericks in the conversation for Paul's services until he signs with another team.
If you'll remember, Dallas has been plotting cap space for a move to add Paul and Dwight Howard for quite some time. The two have also been receptive to playing with each other (h/t Matt Moore of CBS Sports), making Dallas an attractive option for both to team up with Nowitzki in a new Big Three.
Dallas cleared out cap space after its 2011 championship season by letting Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson walk. The Mavericks have done so again in preparation for another run at a marquee star with one-year contracts for Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and O.J. Mayo (player option that he will not exercise).
Like Simmons suggests in his tweet with a thinly veiled shot at Vinny Del Negro in favor of Dallas' Rick Carlisle, the level of satisfaction with the coaching staff in L.A. is also at an all-time low. The Clippers are now 2-8 in the last 10 playoff games under Del Negro over a two-year span, and L.A. can't be happy with his adjustments (or lack thereof) to Memphis in 2013 or San Antonio in 2012.
As Ric Bucher reported on Sulia.com on Saturday, the new coach factor could play a huge role in Paul's choice to return to L.A. If management includes him in a decision, it might help sway his thought process enough to avoid seeking out new employment elsewhere:
I also know that Paul's control of the franchise, by virtue of the fact the Clippers will do anything to keep him, is nearly absolute. As for the current head coach, Vinny Del Negro, the consensus around the NBA is that this first-round ouster is almost certain to cost him his job.
If Del Negro stays, it's because Paul wants him to stay and I haven't heard from anyone that Paul is willing to go to bat for Del Negro in that way. I only hope that over the next few months Paul doesn't feign that he will have nothing to do with who gets the job next or del Negro not being retained. The only way that could be true is if he tells the Clippers definitively that he is not coming back; otherwise, they are assuredly going to be highly interested in who Paul thinks should run the team.
Paul stands to make more money and will have a longer financial commitment from the Clippers should he choose to stay with Donald Sterling's franchise. It's a selling point that will drive conversation on the issue all summer, but it's not the only factor in play.
Young guns Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are a huge part of L.A.'s roster, but the rest of the current assortment of players will need replacing soon. Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill didn't stay healthy this season. Butler is slowing down. Lamar Odom probably isn't a long-term option. The roster needs work, to say the least, to sustain a winning franchise for the next three to four seasons.
That being said, Paul will have full control of any and all efforts if he stays.
On the flip side, there are franchises that are craving a star. Atlanta, Dallas and others would love to bring Paul in to solve their playmaking woes, and he would carry the mantle of a franchise player in whatever city for which he decides to play.
Recruiting a guy like Howard to join up in a new franchise could realistically happen. Both are aging, and both have expressed interest in going somewhere together before (h/t Moore).
So what will it be, CP3?