Chris Paul has never won 8 playoff games in a single season. In 2008, he won 7 playoff games. In 2012, he won 4. In 2013, he won 2 playoff games. In 2014, he won 6. In 2015, he won 7. In 2016, he won 2.The Freud definition of insanity applies here: do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. But the ritual is consistent for Chris Paul and his teammates. Have a great regular season, bomb in the playoffs, never get to the Western Conference Finals.
Even as it’s been a pretty miserable Chris Paul playoff run, he didn’t invent the losing in the playoffs wheel. He has had bad luck, inappropriate injuries to him and others, plus tough playoff matchups with champions like the Spurs and Warriors. Factor in the Clippers have never had the number one seed in the postseason and you see why it’s been tough on Paul. Nevertheless, Chris is judged through the what-has-he-done-in-the-playoffs lens and that’s very fair. He shouldn’t be excused because a variety of reasons have kept him from achieving, circumstances other players have had to fight through as well.
Separate from his duties as the leader and point guard of the Clippers entrusted with getting them their first title, there is another Chris Paul responsibility. It requires similar virtues: toughness, intellect, inspiration and boldness. But as President of the Players Association, win or lose, Chris Paul and the policies he and his board and the executive director Michele Roberts push for, will effect more than 14 people. Win or lose, as the President of the Players Association, what he is able to accomplish effects 400.
I can make the argument that Paul’s tenure as President of the Player’s Association has been just as significant (or more so) than his role on the Clippers because as president his responsibilities have more impact and are longer lasting. They effect the superstar as well as the player who gets zero minutes. He is in charge of an economic system of trickle down and of shared revenues, he must deal with benefits and compensation, he must come to a meeting of the minds as to when college players enter the league, he has to craft a responsible and not just reactionary domestic violence policy, including suspensions, suspensions from off court and on court behavior. Every aspect of a player’s financial and emotional life that impact what they do on and off the court is his responsibility.
Because the players voted for Chris, they trust him to take care of them. He and his board negotiate on the player’s behalf in order to protect their financial interests and benefits as well as crafting language in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that will assist players as they adhere to the structural boundaries of being employed by the league and the rituals and practices that requires. It was on Chris Paul’s watch that the first woman Executive Director of a player’s union was elected.
Chris Paul has another achievement.
No labor strife, no games missed during Paul’s tenure. The players and the league completed a new collective bargaining agreement. By the time it expires, a new president will be installed. Chris Paul’s career will be close to over and he can celebrate what he has achieved.
Paul has long been considered the greatest leader in the NBA. His role heading up the union after the Derek Fisher presidency led to the players giving back money to the owners during their negotiations has kept union members from missing games and game checks and suffering the wrath of their fans who don’t have the stomach to hear billionaires and millionaires in a fight over a few dollars. No, it’s not the NBA Finals but Paul’s work leading the union puts policies in place that the players will benefit from, and the league, as a whole, will depend on for years to come. Plus, he has protected what the players already have.
On the court, it is a little bit tougher.
Can he somehow find a way to elevate players who are old and one dimensional, and young and athletic, and mold them into Western Conference contenders while modeling discipline, smart decision making, selfless play? Is it possible? Or, is all of this insanity?
Last season, the excuses were plentiful. If Blake Griffin hadn’t hurt the quad. If Blake Griffin hadn’t punched equipment guy. If Chris Paul hadn’t broken his hand. Clippers excuses are a way of life, the one holdover from the Donald Sterling regime.
It has been five years of waiting for the Clippers to take over Los Angeles. Ever since Paul came west from New Orleans, pairing him with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, they have underachieved and have been pushed aside in the glamour standings; the Warriors stole their limelight.
The Lob City phenomenon made the Clippers interesting and they have had very good seasons. In the lockout year, they won 40 games. The next year they won 56 games. It was followed by a 57 win season, a 56 win season and 53 wins last year. Consistency in the regular season is what the Clippers have excelled at. Their regular season campaigns have been a bore because you know what is coming.
The city of Los Angeles doesn’t get hyped for what you do in the regular season. The playoffs are what matter and in the playoffs the best point guard of his generation has led his team to summer vacation in May, not the NBA Finals in June. In one sense, the game of Chris Paul has become archaic. He is the primary ball handler and only creator. The offense funnels through him which works in the regular season. But in the playoffs the style of play is dependent upon multiple creators and depth. The Clippers have long droughts when Chris Paul is having a lackluster performance or is off the floor or breaks his hand. He doesn’t have much help as a creator and Doc Rivers didn’t do much to change that in the off season besides re-sign his son and adding Raymond Felton.
The way the Clippers tell the story, Chris Paul is everything. It is the best of times but it is also the worst of times. Paul is tough on his guys. He is a perfectionist. At this stage in his career, he doesn’t handle losing particular well or with grace. He is a laziness snob and he can be edgy and combative. Add to that, he is now desperate to win. He will be 32 years old during the next playoff season, one in which 12 NBA dog years have passed by and he can’t immerse himself in the NBA gold standard of memories: winning in the playoffs.
Chris Paul had a MVP caliber 2015-16 season. He mended fences with DeAndre Jordan and handled the upheaval, the trading of Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson, the absence of Blake Griffin, and he carried the team. He had a career year scoring and for the third straight season averaged 10 assists per game. He was the best point guard, when measuring on court impact. He was the third best NBA player, using those same metrics (Real Plus-Minus). Only LeBron James and Draymond Green were better. Last season, he was the best defensive point guard. He was the best NBA leader.
But fate interrupts plans. You break your hand. Or, you can have a great team that is in the wrong era.
It happened to Karl Malone and John Stockton. They were a Hall of Fame pair but were not good enough to beat the Bulls. Mike Bibby and Chris Webber were selfless All-Stars but could not beat the Lakers. Could this be the Chris Paul riddle? Good but not good enough in an era of floor spaces and faster than light ball movement.
For all of the Clippers highlights- and there are many jaw dropping ones- they have never been a brilliant team. Something has always been wrong. It’s their bench or its Blake Griffin or it’s Deandre’s free throw shooting or an absence of rebounders. Something always keeps the Clippers from being trusted. They fall into trouble at the worst possible moment. In the past, it has been Paul’s teammates that have been to blame, that have taken the brunt of the ire and the worst of them have been shipped out. But for once, can we agree it is Chris Paul that should be praised. And it is Chris Paul who should be blamed for his team failing year after year.
Celebrate Chris Paul when he wins that 8th playoff game in a season. Celebrate Chris Paul for labor peace. There won’t be a lockout until Paul is out the league. He is responsible. He is the reason why. It’s a victory for Paul in 2016-17. Could a Western Conference Finals berth be next?
photo via llananba