Chris Paul is going to be the hottest free-agent commodity this offseason.
With all due respect to Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard, CP3 just completed a season in which he averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 assists and a league-high 2.4 steals—the fifth time he finished as the NBA's top steal man on a per-game basis.
He also was named to the league's All-Defensive team (first-teamer) and will likely conclude the awards part of his 2012-13 season as a first-team All-NBA player.
While Paul and Howard are both going to be sought after by nearly all of the other 29 teams in play for their services, there's little doubt that the point guard from Wake Forest will completely change a franchise's fortunes if he signs a long-term contract.
He's already turned the Los Angeles Clippers' fortunes around.
Paul's control of everything Clipper-related—combined with a $30 million uptick in salary if he stays in L.A.—should be enough to keep the star PG in town for another five seasons when he decides to pick a team this summer.
Some feel that Paul has been in control of the Clippers since he was first traded to the team prior to the 2011-12 season.
The Clippers have completed deals for Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Grant Hill and others during that time, and management has to be happy with the fact that the Clips are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, there are just too many positive attributes for Paul to leave the Clippers this offseason:
One source close to the situation said this week that there are just "too many positives" for CP3 in L.A. even in the face of a hugely disappointing Round 1 exit when it seemed that the Clips had a clear path to the Western Conference finals thanks to their 2-0 series lead over Memphis and OKC's loss of Russell Westbrook.
Another source went so far as to predict that there's "zero chance" of Paul giving up the fifth year and nearly $30 million extra guaranteed that he can earn only by re-signing with the Clips.
Stein also brings up another point in his piece. Although Vinny Del Negro is still the Clippers' head coach, the team is basically sending out feelers to all available head-coaching candidates that will make a "splash" and help appease Paul's hefty demands for someone who can help guide his team in the X's and O's department:
The consistent word in coaching circles is that the Clippers want to go "big" with their forthcoming coaching hire after what insiders continue to describe as the inevitable dismissal of Vinny Del Negro in the wake of L.A.'s first-round exit.
Mark Heisler takes it a step further in a piece he wrote for HoopsHype earlier in the month.
Noting that Paul is in control of the franchise—and therefore more likely to stay than go—coaching candidates like Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry and Mike Malone make sense for the team because Paul is familiar with two, and the other is one of the young names likely to be in contention for openings this summer.
Here's an excerpt from Heisler's piece:
Paul is staying, or at least that’s been the plan since he arrived in 2011.
Did you notice how how much speculation you heard about CP3’s impending free agency? Almost none. You heard a lot more about Howard leaving the Lakers.
Paul wasn’t just on the Clippers, he had so much input, he was virtually running the team. It was even acknowledged by a Clippers official, noting, “This is Chris’ roster.”
If it's truly "Chris' roster," then why would he want to even flirt with another team? From a business standpoint, it seems feasible that CP3 would want to at least explore the market and what kind of control he would have in another franchise.
In Dallas, he could team up with Dirk Nowitzki, and Texas has no state tax—an important thing for players making huge amounts of money because of the tax hike a maximum salary takes on.
In Atlanta, Paul might be able to team up with Howard because the Hawks have the cap space to sign both players. And in the other locker room, speculation continues to run wild about the Lakers amnestying Kobe Bryant, finding a way to clear some cap and pairing CP3 and D12 on the other side of the building.
There are certainly other options, and the jury is still out (in some camps) on whether Paul has complete control of the situation in L.A. Those camps have a point—management is management for a reason, and they get paid to make the right moves before the collection of talent ever practices.
As reported by CBS Sports' Ken Berger, the Clippers are going to take Paul's recommendation into account but aren't (according to sources) ready to give him the reigns just yet:
Paul is expected to be consulted on the head coaching decision, but people familiar with his position say it is too strong to characterize the All-Star point guard as the final decision-maker in that regard.
So there you have it. All the options appear to be on the table for Paul, but one prevailing point remains—the Clippers gave up Eric Gordon, draft picks and other assets for the rights to trade for Chris Paul, and he's helped turn the franchise around.
The Clippers are a borderline contending team. They're a few moves away from taking that next step into the top tier of the Western Conference.
Chris Paul knows this. He might be a business man, but he knows the Clippers are going to afford him the best short-term ability to cash in huge checks, maintain control of the franchise behind closed doors and, maybe most importantly—compete at a high level.
Until the control aspect changes, don't expect to see many rumors about Chris Paul "leaning toward" this team or "strongly considering" another. He already has a team that wants him to be in control, and that might be enough to dissuade the free-agent market entirely.
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