The L.A. Clippers are adjusting to life after Chris Paul.
Paul was one of the few reasons the team has been able to rebound from a losing culture after he was traded to the team in December 2011.
For six seasons he led the Clippers to a remarkable .658 winning percentage and multiple playoff berths, but the team was never able to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Just when the Clippers got really good, the Warriors emerged and never looked back, while the Clippers window of opportunity began closing each year.
Never making it to the top is something the Clippers were familiar with, unfortunately, but for a hyper-competitive athlete like Paul, it was never okay. His legacy was being questioned, and he was never able to cement his spot among the greatest in the west as he saw the mark slowly fading.
Of course, that doesn't cancel out his own individual greatness, but the entire thing bothered him to his core, and sometimes it irritated his teammates. Paul once told Mark Heisler of the Orange County Register, winning is the only goal.
“The whole thing with our team, a lot of people see the wins and losses and stuff like that, but it’s the culture of our team.
If you ain’t trying to contend with the Warriors then what are we doing?”
The talent was there, the desire was there, but taking out the defending champs is no easy task. The league as a whole has been playing catchup, and if not for a silly mistake here and there, the Warriors would be three-peat champions in the present.
Coach Doc Rivers knew the end was coming and saw no need to fight it as his veteran point guard looked for a trade last summer.
“I just think, listen, when you leave, you should just leave. I don’t think you have to try to burn the house down to justify why you left. That’s what I would say to him.
I like our culture. I’ve said our culture wasn’t as good as it should have been last year because we had guys thinking about leaving. And when you have that, I‘ve always believed you’re either in or you’re out. And if you’re thinking about being out, then you’re probably out. I thought that manifested itself last year. …
Chris was great for us. He did a lot of great things. I thought we were always trying to beat Golden State.”
Not only was Chris Paul unhappy, but according to inside sources so was one of the other major reasons the Clippers were winning again, Blake Griffin. Griffin wasn't a fan of Paul's constant chirping, but it was never something he allowed to get to the outside.
Former teammate Luc Mbah a Moute told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that he watched the two stars and never saw moments of animosity or hatred between the two.
“Blake and Chris had their ups and downs but … you couldn’t even tell.
They didn’t argue on the court. They didn’t sit apart from each other off the court. Lots of teams have issues, but it was magnified with us because we lost in the first round.
Before Paul arrived, this was Blake Griffin’s team. Insiders knew Griffin didn’t care for Paul’s never-ending chirping. To Griffin’s credit, he kept it to himself.”
For his own ways of irritating others, Chris Paul wanted to win and his style of play, while not always what his teammates agreed with, certainly has produced results, which is why the Houston Rockets were more than happy to trade for him.
The Clippers had already passed their time and was in need of retooling. After changing the roster a bit, they went out and hired Jerry West as a consultant just as the Warriors had done years ago and there is no denying he had an impact in their winning culture.
Make no mistake, Chris Paul was a special player for the Clippers and their new identity is much more blanket with Blake Griffin as the true leader.
No more chirping and complaining, but now the Clippers must find a way to win without Paul.