Chris Paul wants to win so badly that he can be a jerk about it.
That’s still an overall good thing for any team.
And now with a coach respected enough to tell Paul to take a break from the ref-baiting flopping or cool it with the harsh teammate criticism, that star leadership will be harnessed into something even more awesome.
Paul’s culture-changing landing with the Clippers is about to take on a whole new power with Doc Rivers arriving.
Previous NBA champion coach. Current highest-paid coach in the NBA. Cool, outspoken, confident dude.
Paul no longer has to be the voice and the vision in every way for a club trying to learn how to win big. He has a full partner to demand more from Blake Griffin and everyone else.
It’s simple logic for the Clippers to bring Rivers in to appease Paul as he hits free agency, but it’s even more logical to project the Clippers as tremendously better with Paul working alongside a coach he can trust even more than he did Monty Williams in New Orleans.
All of that aforementioned upside is legitimate.
Then you compare it to what would’ve been the downside of not getting Rivers, to all of the years of frustration from Clippers fans leading up to yet another balloon-hissing letdown, and it’s an unqualified jackpot the Clippers just hit in dealing that 2015 first-round pick to Boston for Rivers.
The Clippers need not look any further than their hallway rival Lakers for proof of how near-miss dreams become epic drains to the fanbase.
The Lakers had Paul in trade from New Orleans before the deal was nixed by the NBA, which owned the Hornets 18 months ago, and the squandered potential of pairing Kobe Bryant with Paul (and later adding Dwight Howard) remains impossible for Lakers fans to forget.
Then in the sequel to that what-if moment, the Lakers gave public consideration in November to rehiring legendary coach Phil Jackson before turning to Mike D’Antoni. With Jackson still unemployed, that huge, creaky shadow toting 11 rings remains cast over everything D’Antoni did and does.
Not getting Rivers after the very public negotiations gauging his interest in the job would’ve been the biggest Clippers tease since Darius Miles. Byron Scott or Brian Shaw would’ve taken the Clippers’ job with immediate uncertainty about legitimacy as the head coach—everyone wondering what Doc’s advice would be on whatever ailed the team. And if missing out on Rivers had somehow been followed by missing out on Paul’s re-signing, the Clippers would’ve been rewound right away to their old existence as L.A.’s joke of a pro team.
But opportunity has fallen into non-visionary Donald Sterling’s lap via Griffin’s lottery drafting, Paul’s aborted trade to the Lakers and now Rivers wanting to come make a difference. Even Sterling’s peculiar fancy for Vinny Del Negro and the reality of Rivers’ $7 million annual wage didn’t stop the right thing from happening here.
It was the only thing that could’ve kept everyone with the Clippers living in a what-might-have-been dreamland.
Everyone with the Clippers, and no one more than CP3.
What Gregg Popovich tells people is the trick to that almost never-ending success in San Antonio is that Tim Duncan allows Popovich to coach him. Always has and always will, even as their relationship has obviously evolved over the years.
There is nothing uncoachable about Paul, no matter how strong-willed as he is. He is simply a fierce competitor who can’t stand it when things are done wrong.
And for the record, even with a balky knee and all of the attention so many other guards got at various points in this season, let’s note this:
Paul got more first-team All-NBA votes than any other guard: ahead of Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry.
Paul sounds like the perfect sort of guy, really, even beyond his free-agent leverage, to get to pick his own coach. And he is just the kind of guy to appreciate the difference between Rivers and Del Negro—and the difference it will make in his legacy.
Kevin Ding has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers for OCRegister.com since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing