In less than one season 34-year-old Chris Paul has changed a narrative that had been constructed throughout the star’s tenure in the NBA, and added an exciting new chapter to a career that many said was on its backend.
All it takes is a few minutes of digging to bring up numerous negative headlines regarding Paul. The worst of which being; ’Chris Paul is an NBA Villain and Undoubtedly a Bad Teammate,’ written in 2018. That headline alone shares a glimpse of what people thought about his time prior to his arrival to the Thunder.
Paul’s career, or rather his reputation, has seen a resurrection with Oklahoma City. But the truth is that Paul has always been the hyper-competitive perfectionist that wore the first ever NBA jersey to portray the words Oklahoma City. The name on Chris Paul’s jersey has changed time and again, but he hasn’t.
Chapter I: Beginnings
The first chapter of Paul’s story began with a short stint with an inherited team that would eventually, and ironically, put Oklahoma City on the map. The Wake Forest product was taken fourth overall in the 2005 NBA Draft. Paul, Marvin Williams, C.J. Miles and Lou Williams are the only remaining players in the league from his draft.
Paul helped Oklahoma City to 38 and 39-win seasons in his first two seasons, the first of which earned him Rookie of the Year, but more importantly offered a look at what an NBA team would look like in Oklahoma City.
“I am excited. It’s definitely different being back.” Paul recalled at Oklahoma City’s Media Day. “You know, I had the opportunity to start my career here in 2005.”
Three presidents, 12 Kanye West albums, five Star Wars films and one arena name change later, the Point God is back in OKC.
Chapter II: Stardom
Paul’s next chapter marked his official entrance into stardom. His first year in New Orleans kickstarted the beginning of nine straight All-Star appearances. At 22-years-old he averaged 21.1 points per game, a career-high 11.6 assists, and 2.7 steals.
He placed the Hornets atop the Southwest division with a 56-26 record. A seven game series with the San Antonio Spurs ultimately pushed them out of the playoffs. The next three years the Hornets primarily saw regression, missing out on the playoffs in the 2009-10 season, which was sandwiched by two first round exits. Paul’s competitiveness was not limited to his later teams.
“I’m fine with staying in New Orleans, but I want to make sure we’re committed to winning,” Paul said in an interview with ESPN’s Chris Broussard in 2010. “I don’t want to rebuild. I want to win now. It’s nothing personal against the city [New Orleans]. I love that city. But my biggest thing is winning.”
Near the end of his time in New Orleans, Paul and the Hornets reciprocated separation.
Chapter II 1/2: Lakers?
Paul was then famously traded to Los Angeles. The Lakers of course. He spent about thirty minutes dreaming about donning the purple and gold with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum before commissioner David Stern denied the trade for “basketball reasons.” It was, for obvious reasons, league altering.
“It would’ve been special,” Paul told Bleacher Report in a recent interview. “I talk about it at some points. Me and Kobe actually got on the phone and talked about this and that. Me and my brother were about to get on a flight to L.A.
Paul eventually was traded to Los Angeles, this time destined to wear blue and red, and Lob City was born.
Chapter III: Expectations
The Lob City Clippers was perhaps the most controversial detour in Paul’s hall-of-fame career. Up-and-coming superstar Blake Griffin and rising rim-rocker DeAndre Jordan were going to be a perfect match for Paul, who was fourth in the league in assists per game at 9.8 the season before.
It was, is, and will always be uncertain what the problem was for the high-flying, show-stopping star trio, but the squad never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
“I feel like the last six years we’ve had a great run,” Paul told the Undefeated’s Marc Spears. “I felt like it was not only a good time for change for me, but for the team, too. Everyone says, ‘We get killed. We can’t get there. We just can’t get over the hurdle.’ I felt like it was time for change.”
Lob City was a success, but perhaps not up to the standards of Paul, which are unquestionably high. The questions of his locker-room presence began here, and followed him into the next chapter of his storied tale, Houston.
Chapter IV: Adaptation
Paul’s two year’s spent with Houston were some of the most successful of his career. He entered a completely new environment that included a new city, a new superstar paring, but most importantly, a new system.
In his final year with the Clippers, the team attempted 2,245 three-pointers. That very same year, James Harden and the Rockets were throwing up 3,470 attempts. Despite the addition of Paul, who had forged his game on midrange jumpers and ball movement, the Rockets didn’t budge. In Paul’s first year, he attempted a career-high 6.5 three-pointers per game, nearly triple the amount he took his rookie season.
In the two seasons Paul spent chucking threes with Houston they remarkably went 81-22, making the Western Conference Finals in his first year there. Up to that point, it was notable Paul hadn’t made it past the second round. In both years however, the unstoppable force that was the sharpshooting Rockets met the immovable object that was the superstar-ridden Golden State Warriors. Harden and Paul almost achieved the impossible when Paul went down with a hamstring injury in the final minute of Game 5 of the 2017 WCF. The Warriors, who were down 3-2 at the time, went on to beat Houston, as well as Cleveland, and crowned themselves the world champions. If there ever was an asterisk on Paul’s career, it’s reserved for games 6 and 7 of that series.
Unbelievable amount of emotions right now.. pic.twitter.com/1FB7ade7uC
— Chris Paul (@CP3) June 28, 2017
Following a second-round exit to the very same Warriors the next year, Paul and Harden’s relationship was called into question, and videos surfaced of the two arguing. It was swept under the rug until Paul was eventually shipped off to Oklahoma City in exchange for longtime franchise cornerstone Russell Westbrook.
Chapter V: Redemption
It turns out the age-old saying that history repeats itself has some truth in it. In the year of our Lord 2020 Christopher Emmanuel Paul is playing professional basketball in Oklahoma City, the very place he helped put on the map some 15 years ago. Although he’s not just playing. He’s leading the charge of one of the most exciting and unexpected playoff runs in years.
The Thunder were thought to be in the midst of a massive rebuild, but Paul’s competitive nature quickly took OKC by storm. Alongside Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, and a host of young dynamos, Oklahoma City has firmly planted themselves in the 2020 playoffs.They currently hold the sixth seed, and it’s a safe bet that none of the top four seeded teams want to see Paul and Oklahoma City in the first round.
Not only have any and all questions about Paul being a bad teammate evaporated, they have completely flipped upside down. His mentorship of rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is particularly noticeable, as the two bond on and off the court. Paul has helped the second-year point guard develop in ways no other mentor could, reviewing game film and comparing notes when they’re not on the hardwood.
As far as numbers go, Paul is playing some of his best basketball with Oklahoma City on his chest. He rightfully earned his first All-Star appearance since 2016, his 10th in total, and is statistically one of the most clutch players in the league. Clutch stats are confined to the final five minutes of the game, which Paul has dominated throughout the season. The Thunder are 25-13 in games considered clutch situations.
Paul’s resurgence has been nothing short of a basketball miracle. In a few short months he went from a chemistry killing-untouchable to one of the best mentors and clutch performers in the league.
Another chapter could be added to Paul’s ongoing script that will eventually send him to the Hall of Fame. But for now, sitting back and enjoying the revival of one of the greatest point guard’s of all-time’s career on an electrifying Oklahoma City team will have to do.
Yes, the teammates, the cities, and the jerseys may change for Chris Paul, but the bowling, plant-eating, ankle-breaking point guard will not and should not.