According to Chris Broussard, Chris Paul is upset that he’s being blamed for the firing of Vinny Del Negro. As a result, he may be willing to explore his options in free agency this summer. If Paul is willing to sign with another team, that dramatically changes the playing field this summer. However, if he ends up leaving the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling putting his foot in his mouth won’t have much to do with it. If he leaves, it will be because he found a better situation for himself.
Upon closer inspection, the story just doesn’t make much sense. If Paul wanted his coach back, all he had to do was ask. He has the leverage in his negotiations with the Clippers. By not sticking up for Del Negro, Paul said everything he needed to say. It’s not hard to connect the dots if he returns and Del Negro doesn’t. Either way, whether Paul thinks Sterling threw him under the bus isn’t the point. If he thinks Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are a championship-caliber frontline, he’ll get over it.
If someone from Paul’s camp is floating this story, it suggests he may be wondering what else is out there. After all, he isn’t the only star with a decision to make this summer. On July 1, Dwight Howard becomes a free agent. If you’re Paul, there’s no reason not to give him a phone call. Why leave any stone unturned when making a decision this important? At some point, you put personal issues to the side and get down to making a business decision that will define the rest of your career.
Howard is a significantly better offensive player than Jordan and a significantly better defensive player than Griffin. He’s a two-way force at the center position who has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and carried a team to the NBA Finals. This season, while recovering from back surgery and playing in the most dysfunctional situation imaginable, he averaged 17 and 12 with 2.5 blocks on 58 percent shooting. If a point guard has a chance to play with a big man like Howard, he owes it to himself to at least consider it.
If Paul and Howard decided to team up with the Atlanta Hawks alongside Al Horford, they would instantly become one of the best teams in the NBA. It would require that both take less money, but that’s what LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did in 2010. In the modern NBA, it’s the price stars pay to surround themselves with elite teammates. The new-look Hawks, meanwhile, would be in a great position to exploit the Achilles heel of the Heat, which has been exposed by the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If Miami can’t handle Roy Hibbert and David West, they won’t have any answer for Howard and Horford. As great as Hibbert has been against Miami, he’s been eating off 1-on-1 matchups with Bosh, Birdman and Udonis Haslem in the post. Howard, even at 80 percent, would demolish those guys if the other Heat defenders stayed at home. Miami would have to send help, opening up the floor for Paul and Horford, two of the most accurate shooters in the NBA. It would be an absolute nightmare matchup.
Paul is great, but he isn’t winning anything without a great big man. He’s never been able to carry a team to the Conference Finals, much less a championship. In eight seasons, Paul has won a grand total of three second-round games, all coming in the New Orleans Hornets' seven-game loss to the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. Every time Paul has played against a superior frontline in the postseason, he has lost. There isn’t much he can do against Tim Duncan or one of the Gasol brothers besides throw cheap shots.
It really doesn’t matter if Paul is a “Point God” or if he is the best leader in the NBA. Teams don’t need great PG’s to win in the playoffs. That’s why Tony Parker, Mike Conley, Mario Chalmers and George Hill were the last four standing this season. LeBron and Paul George can do all of the things Paul can do, except they are 6’9. It’s the same story if you look through NBA history. In the last 30 years, Isiah Thomas is the only 6’1 PG to have even a mini-dynasty built around him.
Even though Howard’s the one with his reputation in tatters, Paul needs him a lot more than vice versa. If Howard decides he wants to leave the Lakers, he can walk into a perfect situation with the Houston Rockets. Paul, in contrast, would be redundant with the Rockets, since both he and Harden need the ball in their hands to succeed. For that matter, if Howard is making the choice between playing with Harden or Paul, wouldn’t he go with the younger and bigger player with healthier knees?
In the NBA, size matters a whole lot more than the pop-psychology foolishness the media throws out there about the league’s best players. The people that say Howard will never be able to win a championship said the same things about Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James, as hard as it is to believe now. Basketball is a team sport; there’s only so much any one player can do to “will” his team to victory. When people discuss Paul’s inability to win in the playoffs, they seem to be able to understand this.
The point isn’t that Paul should be treated like Howard, but that Howard should be treated more like Paul. If every NBA star got off as easy in the court of public opinion, coverage of the sport would be far more reasonable. Paul leaving the Clippers would be viewed much differently than Howard leaving the Los Angeles Lakers, even though the situations would be fairly similar. This summer, both will be making the decision that is best for themselves, regardless of the spin coming from Paul’s camp.