While all signs pointed to Paul re-signing prior to the postseason, a first-round exit to a team Lob City knocked out last year indicates playoff regression. One season ago, the Clips overachieved and beat a hungry Grizzlies team with home-court advantage.
More improbably, Los Angeles came back from 27 points down in Game 1 and then knocked off Memphis in convincing fashion in a Game 7 at FedEx Forum.
With an overhauled roster and paramount expectations, the Clips could not hang with a gritty Grizzlies squad this time.
Games 3 through 6 were completely in Memphis’ favor. Low-possession games that were punctuated by high-low synergy from Grizzlies big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph eviscerated the Clips’ defensive schemes. While Paul played the role of MVP candidate throughout the series, his teammates struggled consistently.
Outside of Blake Griffin, who only played sparingly with a high ankle sprain in Games 5 and 6, the non-Paul starters of DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups combined to average just 23.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in the series.
More incredibly, Paul’s postseason PER of 29.2 exceeded Jordan, Billups and Butler’s combined PER total of 23.1.
CP3 has a bona fide superstar partner in Griffin, but he has to question the complexion of the rest of the roster. Although Paul clearly has confidence in his teammates, as he played a major role in the roster overhaul last summer, those upgrades failed to pay any significant dividends this spring.
Coaching has to be another thing for Paul to consider.
In the playoffs, Vinny Del Negro was thoroughly outcoached by Lionel Hollins. Credit the Grizzlies’ defense, but Del Negro failed to draw up the necessary plays to get his guys easy buckets in crunch time.
Where the Clippers might have Paul’s attention is in their willingness to let him assume the role of player and de facto GM. All roster and coaching decisions will surely be passed by Paul if he is to re-sign.
From a long-term perspective, the Clips are far from reaching their ceiling on the court.
Griffin is still improving, and LAC has some compelling trade chips in young guns Jordan and Eric Bledsoe. Those could be the foundation of a deal that might put an end to trade rumors and net the Clips an All-Star-caliber big like Kevin Garnett.
Although the Western Conference might have been cartoonishly competitive this season, the Clippers have to like their chances with Paul and Griffin moving forward. Age will eventually catch up with the timeless San Antonio Spurs, and the Denver Nuggets are yet to prove their playoff mettle without a true offensive superstar.
If Paul re-signs and Griffin continues to progress, then the Clips could be competing with the Oklahoma City Thunder as the class of the conference.
The Clippers had the talent to make a run at the conference finals this season, but their execution was faulty. More time together will yield better results.
Financially, Paul can do no better than by inking a five-year, $108 million deal in Los Angeles. The Hollywood lifestyle is certainly appealing, and no other city can offer him a similar atmosphere.
Paul is not one to forget letdowns, and the loss to the Grizzlies will probably bother CP3 until he can avenge it. Evaluating his two seasons in Los Angeles holistically, the Point God should consider this Grizzlies series as a speed bump in an otherwise successful tenure in the City of Angels.
All statistics used from ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com.