Just a few short years ago Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards of his generation, if not in the history of the NBA, had a decaying reputation.
Paul Changed Narrative Without Championship
Everyone acknowledged his talent. He has a supreme basketball IQ, can score on anyone in any number of ways, and was an absolute floor general always in command of the situation at hand.
Some of those things, however, began to work against him in recent years. So much so that there was actually a debate on whether he or Rajon Rondo was the worse teammate. Rondo said it’s Paul, for what it’s worth.
Now, Paul isn’t exactly innocent of all the charges brought against him in the court of public opinion. He has had moments where his passion has gotten the best of him. Videos like the one below do him no favors.
No one likes to lose. But that is a reaction one wouldn’t even expect to see at a bitty ball game, let alone from a veteran NBA player. Sorry, not just a veteran. A ten-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA and All-Defensive Team selection, six-time steals leader, and four-time assists leader Oh, he was also Rookie of the Year and, obviously, First Team All-Rookie selection.
That’s a helluva resume for someone who does what we see in that video. It wasn’t an isolated thing either. We all remember the story of Paul trying to storm the Los Angeles Clippers locker room with his Rockets teammates.
Or the image of his former teammate on the Rockets James Harden swatting his hand away during a timeout.
It hasn’t just been attitude questions surrounding Paul. There have also been charges of choking and being injury prone. The latter has more credibility but neither is really on target. Interestingly enough, all of the things held against him have always been present in his NBA career.
Once Upon a Time
But he got the benefit of the doubt in New Orleans. Be it due to youth, the small market, or the general belief that he didn’t have enough around him to compete.
That changed when he arrived in L.A., but no the before he got one more image booster from the NBA. At the time, the league controlled his team, the Hornets, and David Stern made the infamous decision to nix a deal that would have had Paul joining the Lakers and teaming with Kobe Bryant.
Instead, CP3 wound up with the Clippers and began the era known as Lob City, a high-flying circus of a group that included Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Doc Rivers was the last remaining piece from that era
Chris Paul mixtape.. He's just TOO FILTHY pic.twitter.com/6YqNEAappH
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) September 24, 2020
Unfortunately, injuries continued to be an issue not just for Paul but also for Griffin. The group fell short of expectations, much in the same ways Paul’s Hornets did. This time, though, the spotlight was much brighter.
People began to focus on his injury history. His past playoff performances began to be scrutinized. And his statistical output was undercut by those clutch moments where he came up short.
We even reached a point where his style of basketball was being questioned as conducive to winning. Pundits once lauded his ability to control the game. Now they condemned him for dribbling the air out of the basketball.
Six seasons in L.A. Six straight playoff appearances. Zero Conference Finals berths.
2019-20 All-NBA teams:
First: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis, James Harden
Second: Damian Lillard, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Jokic, Chris Paul, Pascal Siakam
Third: Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Rudy Gobert, Russell Westbrook
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 16, 2020
This was after three trips to the playoffs in New Orleans with similar results. Again though, that spotlight was so much brighter in La La Land. He was a veteran and nine-time All-Star. At some point, explanations become excuses no matter how legitimate they may be.
Chance for Redemption
That’s how significant the trade to Houston was. It not only showed that Paul was still a desired commodity (something that had been publicly in question), it allowed him to show his game was malleable. If he could play with Harden, who has a “ball hog” rep of his own, then surely the talking heads were wrong about Paul.
The Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul trade had the NBA world shook. pic.twitter.com/MCVuxn4ty1
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 12, 2019
But his Houston tenure went just like his previous two stops. Plagued by injuries and disappointment.
Though he did exorcise his demon of not reaching the Conference Finals. When Harden said he knew what had to be done following the Rockets’ elimination in 2019, many of us knew what was coming. We saw him slap Paul’s hand.
Houston traded CP3 to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook. It was a deal that no one would have predicted months earlier but was made necessary following the surprise request and subsequent trade of Paul George. It was actually an idea bandied about back in 2011 when Paul was still with the Hornets. Of course, the circumstances were different this time around with both players looking to rehab their images.
The talk was OKC was just a pit stop, a temporary situation until he inevitably got dealt to a contender; namely the Miami Heat. The Thunder had gutted their team moving Westbrook and George, the latter of which bought a bevy of draft picks, young guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari back in return. This was clearly an organization transitioning to rebuilding mode.
Thunder had only a 0.2% chance at making the playoffs this year after trading Russell Westbrook and Paul George
They finished the season 44-28 and clinched the 5th seed
Trust the process 💯 @CP3 pic.twitter.com/CsVPbdKhwp
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 17, 2020
Until they weren’t.
Chris Paul Flipped the Narrative
ESPN gave the Thunder a .2 percent chance of making the postseason. Not only did they make it, but they were also the fifth seed and took the Rockets seven games. It was yet another first-round exit. But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would attack Paul, who had 19/11/12 in the deciding Game 7.
On the contrary, Paul earned recognition for bringing together the ragtag bunch. He was, at least partially, credited with the development of Gilgeous-Alexander and making the trio of he, SGA, and Dennis Schroder work.
We know about Paul’s mentorship of young players off the court and all he does in the community. But this was the first time in a long time that he was in that role and he seemingly crushed it. So much so that there has been talk that new Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan owes the fact that he got another job so quickly to Paul and what the Thunder did on the floor.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s meeting with Bucks ownership over the weekend also included the Greek Freak giving a list of desired players of whom he’d like to be teammates with.
Chris Paul was on that list, I’m told. pic.twitter.com/MbFlN4disD
— 👑 Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson (@ScoopB) September 16, 2020
Talks now, while the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat battled to and in the NBA Finals, is rife with players requesting their teams trade for Paul and positive speculation of reunions with former coaches.
The book on his legacy was thought to have already been written just two seasons ago. A player so many thought was selfish and played a losing brand of ball is suddenly a sought-after piece for a contender and mentor for teams like the Bulls, who have young point guard (and Paul mentee) Coby White.
Chris Paul legitimately changed the entire narrative around him without winning a ring.
Don’t think that’s been given up on though.