Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chris Paul’s latest technical foul

Now I’m hearing Houston Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni rarely, if ever, plans to have James Harden and Chris Paul on the court at the same time. That one will be the substitute for the other.

When you step very far back and look at it, this strategy sort of makes sense, although it seems so completely wacky that if one team has a pair of superstars, they never share time on the court. But in this case, Harden and Paul are essentially the same player, just in different skins. Both are notorious ball hogs. Harden let the NBA in personal time of possession this past season and Paul was seventh on that list. That’s why D’Antoni’s strategy makes sense. Basketball is a game of keep-away from the other team, but not from teammates.

Which is why Paul’s insistence that the Los Angeles Clippers trade him to the Rockets baffles me. OK, I get it that Harden is Paul’s best buddy. I also get it that Paul, at 32, is slightly more than four years older than Harden and may be looking at ways to max out his playing career. But LeBron James is a year older than Paul and the last time I looked he was still the best player in the NBA.

Then there’s the fact that by abandoning the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul left $50 million on the table. 50 million freaking dollars. It must be nice to be in a position to be able to say "Hey, what’s 50 million dollars when I can hang out in Houston, which is actually the same city as Los Angeles except with all the fun removed, with my best buddy?"

Look, he didn’t do it to win a ring. Perhaps someone with the Rockets whispered into Paul’s ear that Houston will be able to rent Paul George for the upcoming season. But if Paul plays for anyone other than Indiana this season I think it’s more than likely that team will be the Celtics.

Besides, the hurdle to pass in the Western Conference of the NBA is the Golden State Warriors and Chris Paul subbing for James Harden doesn’t come close to matching the Warriors’ Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Dramont Greene, Klay Thompson, et al. Not even close.

For the last couple of years, the Clippers offense was pretty simple to diagnose It was either Paul or J.J. Redick shooting threes or Paul heaving an Ally-oop to either Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. And Paul was especially gifted at the latter. Who’s he going to heave to with the Rockets?

There was speculation around the league that the San Antonio Spurs were going to actively court Paul once he became a free agent. Agreed, it was smart for the Clippers to trade Paul before the free agency period started — at least they got something in return in a trade deal. But the word was Houston was where Paul wanted to go all along. I just don’t get it. San Antonio seems, to me, at least, to be a much better fit. Tony Parker’s best days are behind him — he’s 35 after all and lost a considerable amount of court time last season to injury. And, with the Spurs, Paul could find a lot more wide open shots, especially if he’s sharing the court with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, David Lee and Danny Green. And the mind boggles at all the Ally-oop possibilities Paul would have with the Spurs.

Would Paul going to the Spurs put San Antonio on the same plateau as Golden State? Personally, I don’t think so, but a lot of learned voices will argue quite convincingly that they were on the same level last year until Zaza Pachulia stepped on Leonard’s foot and knocked him out of the playoffs.

And, like it or not, whether it’s fair or not, the truth is the legacy of any NBA player or coach is measured strictly by the number of championship rings in his possession. Earlier in the day Phil Jackson was dismissed as president of the New York Knicks, ending a three-season tenure in which the Knicks compiled a wretched won-loss record of 80-166 and were a franchise worse 16-65 in 2014-15. That’s horrible, That’s worse than horrible. However, I guarantee you the first paragraph of Jackson’s obit will refer to him as "an NBA legend" who won 11 NBA championships, six with the Chicago Bulls than five more with the Los Angeles Lakers. I think it’s unfair, unwise and frankly impossible to compare basketball players of one era with players of another. However, Michael Jordan is considered the greatest professional basketball player ever. Why? Six championship rings.

And, like it or not, whether it's fair or not, Chris Paul’s basketball legacy is as a failure. Why? Because he could never take the Clippers beyond the second round of the conference playoffs. And I don’t see his prospects for success in attaining a championship getting any better with Houston.

But, then, maybe I’m just under-estimating the value of friendship.

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