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Chris Paul and the “Circle of Life” in the NBA

Chris Paul and the “Circle of Life” in the NBA

November 1, 2005. The first New Orleans/OKC Hornets game of the season. The first NBA game of Chris Paul’s career, and Oklahoma City’s first glimpse at professional basketball. Who could’ve possibly known the wild journey we’d be in for.

The Hornets had finished dead last in attendance the previous season, but played in front of many sell out crowds the following year in what was then called the Ford Center. The state of Oklahoma fell in love, and our first love was Chris Paul.

A lot has changed and been accomplished by both Paul and the Thunder since. Let’s look at how the player and the team’s paths have crossed over the years.

via Thunder

Early rise to stardom

We got to see a young Chris Paul for the majority of his first two seasons. He almost unanimously won the Rookie of the Year Award, leading all rookies in just about every category. Paul even became the 2nd rookie in NBA history to lead the league in total steals.

The Hornets eventually relocated back to New Orleans for the 2007-2008 season, the same season that Paul would be selected for his first NBA All-Star Game. He led the team to a franchise-record 56 wins, and the 2nd seed in the West, all while nearly winning the MVP ( he finished second, behind some guy named Kobe Bryant). He led the Pelicans to the second round of the playoffs, eventually losing to the San Antonio Spurs.

In the 2008-2009 season Paul put up similar stats, but the team’s record fell a little from the year before and they were eliminated in the first round by the Denver Nuggets.

The next couple seasons weren’t too great for Paul and the Hornets. The franchise decided to fire coach Byron Scott, Paul dealt with injuries. They managed to miss the playoffs in 2009-2010, and were eliminated in the first round yet again in 2010-2011.

New Orleans feared that Paul would make good on his plans to leave in free agency, so they made him available in trades so they could at least get something in return. After a famous no-deal to the Lakers, Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, looking to revamp his career.

Lob City Era

Paul rejuvenated not only his career, but the whole Los Angeles Clippers franchise. Teaming with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Lob City squads were primed to be a threat in the Western Conference.

Chris Paul  was an All-Star in all six of his seasons with the Clippers, and they had a top-5 seed each of those years in the playoffs. Although, Paul had often been criticized for not being able to make it to the Conference Finals before, and he was not able to do that in LA. The Clippers were never able to make it past the conference semifinals, even taking OKC to six games in 2014.

This team just couldn’t get over the hump. The trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Deandre Jordan just wasn’t good enough in a stacked Western Conference, and after a half dozen years, Paul knew he needed a change.

Short tenure with Houston

On June 28, 2017, Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, a future first round pick, and cash considerations. Houston went all in for Paul in a summer in which general managers around the league were trying to put together a roster to dethrone the Golden State Warriors.

Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Paul and James Harden had their chances to take down Golden State. In their first season, the duo led the Rockets to the 1-seed for the first time in franchise history, thanks to a franchise-best 65-17 record. Paul finally reached the Western Conference Finals against Golden State. He played phenomenal in the postseason, but after going up 3-2, just one win away from the NBA Finals, Paul suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out for the next two games. Golden State won those games, eliminating Houston in what may be the biggest what-if in Paul’s career. If he doesn’t suffer that injury, the Rockets probably go on to the finals, and who knows what would’ve happened against Cleveland.

On July 8, 2018, Paul signed a four-year, $160 million maximum contract extension with the Rockets, and during the following season, there was reported “tension” between Paul and Harden. They would make the playoffs again in 2019, but eventually be eliminated by Golden State once again, this time in the second round.

Back to OKC

While Chris Paul was going on his journey throughout the league, we were going through a journey of our own in OKC. We watched a Western Conference Finals victory over San Antonio, and a Finals berth. We felt the pain of James Harden getting traded away when we could’ve possibly had the greatest trio of all time. We witnessed not one, but two MVP seasons from Westbrook and Kevin Durant. We felt betrayal when KD left for the bright lights. We felt hope again when we acquired Paul George, then confusion when George was traded.

In the summer of 2019, there were rumors flying about Harden wanting Paul traded. Coincidentally, Westbrook was available after that whole George ordeal, and we all know where this was headed. Not even a week after George was traded, the Westbrook era was over, and Chris Paul was back in OKC. Different franchise, different team, but most importantly, a different role.

What now, and what next?

Many people wondered before the season started if Paul really wanted to be in OKC, and I think that he has already shown that he loves it here. He talks very highly of the community and his young teammates. Paul plays the mentor role perfectly for guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley.

Right after Paul led the comeback win over the Bulls, The Suave Report posted a video of SGA, Bazley, and Paul’s dad poking fun at him in the arena. It showed how much fun the team is having this year. No pressure, just playing basketball.

I actually happen to be one of those who weren’t sure if Paul would want to stay here or not. He could’ve demanded a trade to a contender for one more championship run, but instead he has taken on this leadership role.

The Thunder reportedly have “no belief” that a trade for Paul will materialize this season, per Adrian Wojnarowski, and I, for one, am happy about that. I love the way Paul gets this team to come out and fight every night, and I simply love the attitude he brings to the team.

It’s weird to look back 14 years ago. Paul was giving his all for OKC every night, before the city had title expectations. Now, we are in the same situation. We should cherish Paul, a future Hall of Famer and one of the pioneers of professional basketball in OKC, while he’s still here.