In a have and have-not world, Chris Paul is the definition of privileged. He has amassed money and wealth, accumulating assets but Paul hasn’t been as lucky with championship hardware. So far, he has struck out in that department. Nevertheless, Paul can opt-in to his contract and make $44 million dollars in 2021-22. Or he can opt-out and sign a three-year deal, probably with the Suns, maybe with the Clippers, for $75-80 million.
After his first NBA Finals in which Paul was both outstanding and average, some of which was due to the pressure of Jrue Holiday, and perhaps Paul was battling an injury, Paul finds himself with a decision that only the uber-wealthy have to wrestle with. Should he go for the title and join veteran talent like the Lakers or Clippers? Or should Paul get as much money as possible, run it back with the Suns, and perhaps lose in the second round?
As an experience, the NBA Finals is addictive, despite the pressure and anxiety. Once there, you want to return. The Suns, with Chris Paul as a leader, are a contending team but in the Western Conference, with everyone healthy, the Suns aren’t the favorite. They are in the mix with the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Nuggets. The Blazers and Mavericks are right there too but not as potent on defense as the top-5 contenders.
What does Chris Paul want?
He was a Hall of Famer five years ago. The question becomes how badly does he want a title? Is he willing to trade money for a ring?
The Suns were beaten in the Finals because their opponent had the best player on the floor. Giannis Antetokounmpo had an offensive rating of 135 and a defensive rating of 111. Devin Booker had an offensive rating of 104 and a defensive rating of 121. Chris Paul had an offensive rating of 118 and a defensive rating of 122.
Collectively the Suns trailed in multiple categories. Milwaukee had more rebounds, more offensive rebounds, went to the line more frequently, attempted 27 more shots, had more assists and steals. Only Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton of the Suns had a defensive rating lower than 115 while the Bucks Bobby Portis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez had a defensive rating of 115 or lower.
The Suns struggled with their style of play. In the first two wins, Paul was the organizer. Then they let loose Devin Booker and while he is a singular talent in the same class as a Kobe Bryant if not as skilled, the team became the Suns 2016-20 with Booker as the ball stopper. The Suns assist percentage was 48%, eleven percentage points lower than the Bucks. At 33.5% Booker had the highest usage rate; Booker was terrible from the 3-point line. He took 41 threes and only made 11 (26.8%)
Other Suns issues. DeAndre Ayton needs more seasoning. His post footwork needs more practice time and he has to develop some offensive moves so the Suns can isolate Ayton when the pick and roll isn’t on the menu. Additionally, James Jones has to get a defensive stopper, someone not named Jae Crowder to throw on a wing player who can defend and doesn’t need to score. A Lou Williams type of bench sharpshooter wouldn’t hurt either. Norman Powell is available. As is Lou Williams.
Chris Paul holds the fate of the Phoenix Suns in his hands. If he jumps somewhere else, the Suns are a playoff team but not a contender. Paul elevates everything. It’s not in Paul’s nature to leave a team who has excelled, and I expect him back with the Suns. Because they are a young team it’s not hard to imagine everyone gets better, even Booker who needs to work on his defense and play-making when doubled.
Eleven years ago, the Suns were in the Western Conference Finals and lost in 6. Now they lost in the NBA Finals in 6. Unlike that Steve Nash-Grant Hill team, this version of the Suns are younger, faster, more athletic but have to learn how to win in the playoffs. At times, they looked exhausted.
Chris Paul is wealthy which produces envy but in the NBA he hasn’t been a winner, only two trips to the Conference Final. In the NBA you can’t buy a title. A title is earned and has little or nothing to do with income.
The income of Chris Paul is staggering. He is the third highest-paid player in the NBA. Only Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook make more. Khris Middleton of the Bucks is the 16th highest-paid player and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the 38th highest-paid player. Money doesn’t correlate with hanging a banner. Money doesn’t mean endurance, achievement under stress, injury luck, and 4 wins. For that- the holy 4 wins- Chris Paul has to wait for season number 17.