For some, it's a foregone conclusion that Paul will re-sign with the Clippers. Why wouldn't he? They can offer him one year and nearly $30 million more than any other team. They'll also do whatever he asks them to. He'll have the same kind of veto power David Stern did in 2011. They have to be considered the favorites.
And they are. Los Angeles has a superstar (and I use the term loosely) in Blake Griffin, along with a slew of other players not named DeAndre Jordan who Paul himself handpicked to be there. The Clippers were partially assembled by Paul and will continue to be constructed around him (should he stay). If he wants Jordan gone, he's gone. Hell, if he wants Griffin shipped out, the front office will help him pack.
Walking away from that kind of control, accompanied by the type of dollar signs the Clippers are prepared to give him, is seemingly impossible. Except it's not.
There will be plenty of teams that will be vying for Paul's services this offseason, most notably the Atlanta Hawks and Mavericks.
The Hawks will attempt to sell Paul and Dwight Howard on the idea of playing alongside one another, though neither player will accept a pay cut to play in Atlanta of all places. Everyone who doesn't begin each morning with a cocktail or 10 understands that neither Paul nor Howard will accept a pay cut to play in Atlanta of all places, though. It's just not going to happen.
Which leaves the Mavericks, who don't have the spending power to acquire both Howard and Paul, but have the means to sell Paul on Dallas itself.
First, The Numbers
The Mavericks have $48.5 million committed in payroll next season. With O.J. Mayo expected to opt out of the second year of his deal, Dallas will sit around $43.5 million.
Now, Paul will be able to make slightly over $18 million in the first year of his deal. If the NBA's salary cap holds at $58 million, the Mavericks will need to trim roughly $3.5 million more to offer Paul the max, which is more than doable. Declining to extend either Rodrigue Beaubois or Darren Collison would put them right there.
Assuming the cap increases to around $60 million, the Mavericks (sans Mayo) would fall approximately $1.5 million shy of offering Paul the max. Parting ways with either Beaubois or Collison (or dumping Vince Carter) would then give them more than enough space to make it happen.
It will take some maneuvering on Dallas' behalf, but very little. Affording Paul won't be a problem.
The Why, Part I: A Better Place to Play?
Paul is flight risk. And we need to understand that.
He hasn't made it past the second in the two years he's been with the Clippers and plays for an owner who is notorious for pinching pennies and cutting financial corners to make the numbers work for him.
Not that Donald Sterling's Clippers have hesitated to spend lavishly since acquiring Paul. Griffin and Jordan were handed shiny new extensions, Los Angeles brought in Lamar Odom via trade and Chauncey Billups and Jamal Crawford were paid handsomely for their services.
Sterling's reputation precedes him, though. He's been operating under the assumption that he has to please Paul these past two years. There's no guarantee he doesn't revert back to his beggarly ways once Paul inks a five-year deal and complacency begins to set in.
Does Paul want to attach himself to an owner like Sterling for the next five years, knowing that his power could vanish at any time along with the organization's open wallet? Or does he want to play for an owner who only writes blank checks, like say, Mark Cuban?
For all we wish we could change about Cuban, his willingness to spend whatever he needs to win is not one of them. He wears his checking account on his sleeve; the Bank of Cuban is always open.
Paul has never played for a "boss" like Cuban. The New Orleans Hornets were certainly in no position to spend without regret, and you know a part of Sterling dies inside with each dollar he's forced to spend.
Cuban, though? He doesn't feel right if he doesn't make it rain.
And as Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com points out, the working environment, along with the results speak for themselves:
Put it this way: The Clippers have made half as many playoff appearances during Sterling’s 32-year ownership tenure as the Mavs have in 13 full seasons under Mark Cuban. Sterling’s squads have won a grand total of two playoff series, 11 fewer than Cuban’s teams.
Oh, and Sterling also happens to have been accused of racism, sexism, etc. in multiple lawsuits. In basketball and his other business, he’s simply an awful boss. Cuban, on the other hand, is widely beloved by those who have played for the Mavs for his willingness to do whatever is in his power to give his team the best chance to win.
MacMahon added that Cuban is already close with Paul. And so is Nowitzki. He's not just spewing textual filth either. The three were seen "palling" around at Tiger Woods' Charity Poker tournament in Las Vegas.
While that doesn't necessarily mean something, the relationship shared between Dallas' current star and owner means everything.
Cuban isn't Sterling. He's better. That's a fact.
The Mavericks have become a perennial contender under his watch while the Clippers have been predominantly irrelevant under Sterling.
Cuban is dedicated to assembling a winner every season. Paul knows this. He also understands he cannot say the same of his current owner.
If he ultimately decides that playing under Sterling is too much of a risk, Cuban will be waiting with open arms. And an open wallet, too.
The Why, Part II: Future Outlook
Paul would be a fool for spurning the Clippers to play alongside an aging Nowitzki, right? Not so fast. He could be a genius.
Griffin is 24, and considered a superstar in some circles. Dirk is going on 35 and on his way out (sort of). Why would Paul choose the latter over the former? Because of what the Mavericks have the potential to do beyond next season.
Once the Clippers re-sign Paul, that's it. They'll have well over $60 million on the books leading into next season and find themselves in similar predicament heading into the summer of 2014. Though they won't have achieved New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers status, they'll be limited in what they can do.
Of course, they could deal Jordan or try to make some lower scale moves, but they won't be in a position to make a splash. The Mavericks will be.
Nowitzki is old. Let's get that out of the way right now. But his contract comes off the books after next season, just in time for the summer of 2014 when guys like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, among others will be eligible to become free agents.
With Nowitzki's $22.7 million gone, the Mavericks would have just two players under contract (including Paul), leaving them with upwards of $40 million to play around with.
What do you do from there? You re-sign Nowitzi. Wait, what? Why? Because he's willing to take a pay cut.
"I got one year left on this deal and then I'm coming off the books," told Ben & Skin on KRLD-FM 105.3 (via The Dallas Morning News). So if that helps for us to be better I'm going to take a pay cut. That's part of the pitch."
As it should be. Dirk isn't likely to be a 25 (or even 20) points per game scorer, but at a fraction of his current cost, he'll still be valuable to what the Mavericks are attempting to accomplish.
From there, Dallas can chase anyone it pleases. Would LeBron consider joining the Mavs to play alongside Paul, a good friend of his? Most would be quick to say no. That it would be a possibility, however, can't be ignored.
The Clippers won't have that kind of flexibility to look forward to. It's not inconceivable that they would attempt to free up some cap space to make a serious run at other stars in 2014, but that opportunity won't come as effortlessly as it will in Dallas.
Toss in the Mavs' winning ways, complete with a 2011 NBA title, and they're an intriguing destination for Paul.
Signing CP3 isn't a certainty, or even close to it. It is, however, a possibility. A legitimate one.
They can offer what the Hawks will not. What the Houston Rockets won't. What the New York Knicks wish they could.
And what the Clippers arguably can't.