NBA: Clippers welcome Paul
By Greg Beacham
LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul endured two weeks of sleepless nights, stressful days and at least one imploded trade before he found a new home with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Pacific Ocean looked awfully peaceful to the superstar point guard on Thursday when he finally left the New Orleans Hornets for life on the West Coast, and now CP3 can’t wait to start turning Staples Center’s longtime second-class citizens into the greatest show in Hollywood.
The Clippers’ bold new acquisition spent the day at their Playa Vista training complex, trying on his new No. 3 jersey after meeting with Blake Griffin and the rest of the players who can’t wait to catch the four-time All-Star’s passes.
“This is not my day, by the way. This is the Clippers’ day,” Paul told an overflowing media crowd. “This is a humbling experience, and I’m so grateful and thankful to be here.”
A day earlier, the Clippers acquired Paul in a four-player trade with the Hornets, outmaneuvering the Lakers and several other suitors for the player widely considered the NBA’s best point guard. Paul, who averaged 18.7 points and 9.8 assists last season, realizes his move is a stunning endorsement of the long-struggling Clippers, who have been overshadowed by the 16-time champions for three decades in Southern California.
“I believe in this organization,” Paul said. “I believe in the players here, and I want to win. I want to win now. I’m so tired of doing everything else. I want to play.”
What Paul doesn’t know about the Clippers doesn’t appear to hurt him. He repeatedly referred to the Clippers’ history as a selling point as he joined a 41-year-old franchise with no championships, no division titles, one winning season in the past 19 years and just one playoff series victory since 1976.
Yet Paul represents the Clippers’ shining future, not that dingy past. Even better for their long-suffering fans, Paul already realizes what side he’s taking in this painfully one-sided crosstown rivalry, and he’s ready to mix it up with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and whoever is left on the Lakers’ roster when they finally resolve a profoundly messy offseason.
Paul repeatedly refused to talk about the Lakers’ squashed trade for him — even refusing to say the Lakers’ name.
“The other team has won championships, and it’s about winning, but I think Blake has done an unbelievable job changing that (perception),” said Paul, who almost singlehandedly put a first-round playoff scare into the Lakers last spring with the Hornets. “You can’t take anything away from him about how he has changed the culture here in L.A. I’m coming here to join and be a part of it, and hopefully we can grow together as basketball players and continue to change everything. That’s what we play for.”
Griffin is sad to lose teammates Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu in the deal, but the Rookie of the Year is looking forward to lining up with Paul and fellow newcomers Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups, called “my big brother” by Paul.
Griffin’s first words about Paul’s arrival — “Lob city!” he said gleefully to fellow high-flying teammate DeAndre Jordan on Wednesday — have already become a Twitter trending topic and a T-shirt in Los Angeles.
“We’ve got a lot or work to do,” Griffin said. “The target has shifted a little bit, but the only thing I’m going to promise is that you’re going to get our best every night. And when you hear ‘The Clippers,’ it’s not going to be a joke anymore. I can guarantee you that.”
Paul has been intrigued by Griffin since they teamed up for the Western Conference last year at the All-Star game at Staples. He knows fans are already salivating at the prospect of Paul’s passes finding the acrobatic Griffin for all varieties of vicious dunks.
“That’s something that’s not going to happen overnight either,” Paul said. “I’ve got to find the right height. It’s like Blake plays on a goal that’s lower than 10 foot or something. I’m excited for the opportunity to not only help him grow, but for him to help me to get to the next level.”
The Clippers clearly were proud of their own audacity, which surprised many who have only known this franchise for pinching pennies and providing minimal support to a long history of talented players. Clippers vice president of basketball operations Neil Olshey credited owner Donald Sterling and Paul’s agent, Leon Rose, for pushing through a trade that stalled at numerous points thanks to the Hornets’ ownership by the NBA.
The Clippers have been determined to change their culture ever since Olshey and coach Vinny Del Negro took over last year, and Paul’s arrival is a massive step in that direction.
“The perception here is not the reality, as you guys can see,” Olshey said, noting the Clippers’ recent improvements, including their gorgeous training complex and their enviable mix of talent and cap room. “Going forward, all that ends, and it’s just about the future from now on.”
Paul has told the Clippers he’ll exercise his player option for next season, keeping him alongside Griffin, Jordan and their supporting cast for at least two years. The Clippers’ brain trust is confident they’ll win enough in that stretch to persuade the club’s core players to stick together — but they’ll get to work in earnest on that job Friday in Paul’s first full practice with his new team.
“He’s not just coming here to jump on a lily pad,” Olshey said. “He’s coming here to be a long-term face of this franchise. He wanted to know there were going to be pieces here around him. … His commitment to wanting to be here is what inspired me to not give up. When it got to the point where both our goals met late (Wednesday) afternoon, we just got in a room and got on with Mr. Sterling and said, ‘If we’re going to take this quantum leap as a franchise, it’s going to have to be with a superstar, and that’s Chris.’”
The Associated Press