The leadership of Chris Paul was one of the prevailing themes in NBA basketball over the course of the past two seasons. Labeled unofficially as the problem in Houston, the Rockets shipped Paul to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook, sending Chris to a rebuilding situation late in his career. Paul helped rebuild the franchise in record time, as he led the young Thunder to the fifth seed in the playoffs in his only season there – they were one win away from advancing to the second round in the bubble. Paul’s impact on OKC did not go unnoticed, as the Suns traded for him in the offseason, hoping he would help take their talented young core to the next level. Instead, CP3 did them one better and led Phoenix to its first Finals appearance since 1993.
The Suns made it to the Finals playing a beautiful free-flowing and team-oriented brand of basketball. The tenacious and disciplined Phoenix Suns stormed through the Western Conference and even started the NBA finals leading the series two games to none. Then, Jrue Holiday happened, and suddenly CP3 began to look gassed; perhaps this was his age starting to show.
Of course, the untold story here is that of injuries. The Lakers and Clippers were in control of their respective match-ups with the Suns before injuries to their leading players struck. Nevertheless, the Suns made the Finals and had a legitimate shot at winning CP3 his first title. Injuries or not, it was as impressive and convincing as any other Finals run in the history of the game.
While injuries to opponents should never discount the accomplishments of a player or team, they are part of the game. The finals loss to the Bucks must hurt extra hard for Chris Paul because not only did he fail to capitalize on a golden opportunity, but this opportunity might be the last one he gets in his career as one of the main guys on the team. Of course, this assumes teams are healthy next season, and Phoenix is competing against some of the most dominant dynamic duos in the league.
Quite frankly, the teams that we thought would have beaten the Suns if healthy will be back in full force. On top of that, Golden State is expected to come back with a vengeance next year with Klay returning, along with the assets to make some big roster changes in the off-season. Damian Lillard might be on the move, possibly creating another super team. The Suns, as they are right now, will just not be good enough.
There will also be other upcoming teams such as Dallas, Denver, and Utah that have managed to get more playoff experience this year; it is just going to be tough. CP3 as your number one or two option is just not going to work in a healthy NBA landscape, which leaves one last option for him to get that elusive ring he has been longing for.
Chris has a player option for next year, which he can decline, sending him into free agency. With this move, Paul can look at the NBA contender landscape and essentially pick where he thinks he would be able to win a title. There are many teams on the cusp of title contention, the closest one being the team of his dear friend, LeBron James. However, a move to the Lakers would mean Chris would be willing to relinquish his status as the heart and soul of a franchise, something he does not seem to be ready to do just yet.
The Lakers with LeBron and AD are the closest thing to a championship team outside of Brooklyn. In fact, they are only one season removed from a title of their own, won in the NBA bubble in 2020. Playing with LeBron James means that you are no longer the loudest voice in the room and that you are no longer in control. Chris’ competitive nature suggests that he would not be interested in such a partnership, but after what we have seen blossom between him and Monty Williams, it no longer seems as farfetched as it once was. Plus, Chris and LeBron are like brothers, so maybe LeBron would trust him like no other and even adjust his game to benefit Paul’s legacy. A move to the Lakers would be extra interesting for Paul, as the last point guard to help LeBron and crew win a title was a player Chris is very fond of, Rajon Rondo.
Imagine if Chris were to move to the Lakers with virtually the same squad and come away without a ring? That would be the beginning of a whole new level to their beef. On the other hand, what if Chris joins the Lakers and helps them topple the super team in Brooklyn? A win against that three-headed monster could cement both his and LeBron’s legacy in the upper echelon of the game’s greatest.
Either way, it would be nice to see the beautiful music that LeBron and CP3 would make together, leading to a ring. Or if they do not win one, somebody needs to get Rajon Rondo the mic and ask him to officially declare the CP3 window closed. Either way, CP3 to the Lakers would set the stage for some historic drama in the league next year.