Title-chasing leads to strange bedfellows. Steph Curry has now been tasked with accomplishing what Kevin Durant failed — dragging Chris Paul’s withering body to an NBA title. He’s no longer an All-Star caliber player, but there’s still something left. Now, the future Hall of Famer will be imported into a system unlike anything he’s ever played in before. Hours before the 2023 Draft commences, the Warriors executed a sizzling hot trade that shipped out Jordan Poole, a protected 2030 first round pick, and a 2027 second round pick to Washington for Paul. Poole’s ouster from Golden State is a repudiation of the four-year, $128 million extension that was set to kick in next season.
Paul has thrived for nearly two decades as a high usage pick-and-roll merchant. In Golden State, he’ll be taking a backseat to established veterans and equals. More importantly, Paul will be adjusting to a decentralized offense that emphasizes ball movement over the ball-dominant, methodical approach he has preferred. The Warriors don’t need help in a starting five that had the NBA’s best net rating this season. As I wrote two weeks ago, Paul is no longer capable of leading a contending team’s starting offense, but he can revitalize a Golden State second unit that was abysmal this season. There will be nights when Paul will activate and fizzle up on some unsuspecting backup guard and others where he’ll look creakier than usual. Kerr’s job will be to preserve him until the playoffs.
Poole averaged career-highs in points this season, but his shot selection led to a dip in his efficiency and several moments of frustration at Poole occasionally snuck through the Warriors monastery. In the waning seconds of a last January matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, a visibly angry Curry launched his mouthpiece after Poole bricked an ill-advised deep-three pointer just seconds into a reset shot clock.
In Paul, Steve Kerr knows what he’s going to get. An ornery, but high IQ ball handler who can run a pick-and-roll with the best of them. This is also Paul’s last chance for a ring. Counting on a point guard of Paul’s age is a risky proposition. Injuries pop up more often. Ligaments lose their elasticity and first steps get slower. However, in limited minutes, Paul’s spatial computing brain will be key to unlocking Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and Gary Payton Jr. in minutes when the Death Lineup rests.
However, in a significantly reduced role, Kerr may be able to mine the absolute most out of whatever Paul has left and avoid the mistakes teams have made in the past with aging greats like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. During their respective age-38 seasons, Nash physically quickly deteriorated and Kidd’s production made him virtually unplayable.
For a decade, the Warriors have been Paul’s hurdle to clear. In the first round of the 2014 postseason, Paul’s Clippers were the last Western Conference team to defeat Golden State until the Lakers shocked them in six games last month. Months later, Joe Lacob hired Steve Kerr and the Warriors dynasty began their rampage through the West. In 2018, Paul’s hamstring injury was the catalyst for Golden State’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals. The next year, Curry’s transcendent second half sent the Rockets home licking their wounds and ended Paul’s tour through Houston.
In a span of one week, Paul went from the riches of Phoenix to being cast away to Washington and then rescued by Golden State. Assuming the Warriors re-sign Draymond Green, the Warriors will be in position to make a run at another title after being left for dead on the second round’s curbside by the Los Angeles Lakers. This time, the Warriors will be taking the floor with Paul on their side. In staggered lineups, Paul may be afforded the opportunity to solo pilot the offense.
During his two years in Houston, Paul thrived off-ball while Harden sat. He’ll have to feel out the dynamic within the Warriors offense. Unlike previous stops in Houston and L.A., the Warriors are a cohesive group of vets. A Clippers reunion would have resulted in him joining a fragmented locker room. Giving him heavy minutes on the Lakers would risk a replay of the disastrous Nash experiment a decade ago. Situationally, things couldn’t be much better for CP3.
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