Remember Cars? Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the film. In the 2006 film, after a season full of third place, a runner – Chick Hicks – was asked to compete with the first two drivers to have a chance of winning the championship. It’s a plot hole that has gotten me wrong for the last fifteen years. Why on Earth will anyone who has ever lost be treated the same way as those who beat them all season?
Chris Paul is the NBA Chick Hicks. Paul is a guy whose teams have always underperformed in the playoffs. He never won a championship. He never even had a Finals appearance, yet most of the NBA world considers Chris Paul one of the real “winners” in the league.
“Win the games,” they murmured.
“Look where the Suns and the Thunder were before he gets compared to what they’ve accomplished with him!” they cried from the tops of the mountains.
“Its value cannot be explained by statistics!” Adding more than one box point could indicate! they shouted from the top of their lungs.
Yes, yes, yes. I heard it all. I watched his games. I like to think of knowing what he brings to the table when it suits him. And the answer is … a lot – a whole hell of a lot in reality. Chris Paul was (and still is) incredibly valuable to every team he played for. He has had a remarkable and illustrious career, but he is not a winner.
Okay, so what determines a winner? Do you have to win a championship? No I won’t go that far, but you should at least be able to win a championship as the face of your franchise. It’s what I call a winner. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, and Luka Dončić are all players who have shown enough that – with the right pieces supporting them – as the face of their respective franchises to win a title with them at the reins. During his 16-year career, Chris Paul has never been like that. More often than not, it’s been the support piece that supports other players. It was just the sight of his franchise with the Hornets and Thunder (maybe the Suns too, but I’ll get back to that later). Paul never spent the second round with that first team. He didn’t survive the first round in his lone season with the second team, but that team certainly didn’t help Paul at all.
The times when Paul took a back seat to other elite players were the times when his teams were consistent. When Blake Griffin was the face of the Clippers with Chris Paul playing the distributor role, the Clippers were contending for the championship – even if they suffocated in the playoffs every year without fail. When Paul played the distributor role for James Harden in Houston, the Rockets became the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors dynasty since Oklahoma City. Now with the Phoenix Suns, Paul has taken a back seat as a distributor for Devin Booker, and Paul’s team is formidable again.
You could argue that Paul is the face of the franchise, but I will say that the role has been forced on him because of his legacy rather than because of how the Phoenix Suns operate. The narrative surrounding Paul is that he’s a great player, the first Hall of Famer nominee, but he’s never won a title, and he’s unfortunate. It is. Paul has been an elite player for most of his entire career and the fact that he has never had the opportunity to play on the biggest stage of the game is a shame to cry about.
After the Suns went 9-0 in the bubble last year, Phoenix already had a ton of hype in the 2021. Will you launch CP3 in the mix? Now, let’s talk. This is a championship caliber team. We saw how Paul turned OKC in one season. Imagine what it will bring to the Suns. It doesn’t matter that Booker has improved his field goal percentage and points per game each of his first five seasons in the league. This is Paul’s team now. Until they win a championship, this is Paul’s team.
I don’t deny that Paul’s impact was substantial and significant. Just pointing out that it’s Devin Booker’s incredible scoring ability that puts Phoenix in the “championship contender” category, and that’s what makes Booker the face of the Suns.
Chris Paul is a fantastic player, and I love watching him this year. Despite his age, he continues to surpass the young stars and helps his teams exceed expectations. However, Paul has not shown that he can bring a team to a championship, which should be the goal for every player with a resume like Paul. When his career ends, Paul may, unfortunately, fall as John Stockton of this generation – someone who was always great, but despite the talent around him has never been great enough to compete with the best teams in the league. Hopefully this year’s Suns team can change that. If they win the Larry O’Brien trophy this year, I would be happy to send a full-length apology as I return home with my head stuck between my legs and the egg in my face. I really hope Paul’s Suns win the title. That said, when the Suns reach the Western Conference finals … Clippers in 6.