The Los Angeles Clippers may have significantly hurt their chances to re-sign Chris Paul this summer.
A report Friday from ESPN LA suggested the point guard is angry with the Clippers for essentially admitting they fired head coach Vinny Del Negro to adhere to Paul and his personnel requests.
L.A. owner Donald Sterling has been called the NBA’s worst owner since he took over the club in 1981, and his comments to the Los Angeles Times about Del Negro’s firing may have jeopardized the Clippers chances of re-signing the floor leader that guided them to the first-ever 50-win season in franchise history.
Sterling said he liked Del Negro and enjoyed working with him, but also stated he didn't want to lie when asked if players had anything to do with the team's decision to let Del Negro go.
"No, you're not off base," Sterling said to T.J. Simers of the Times. "This is a players' league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy."
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Paul has earned mostly praise throughout his eight-year career, but one month removed from unrestricted free agency and rumors abound on the six-time All-Star's next destination and if he’s a “coach-killer”.
Several teams are competing with the Clippers for Paul’s services, and while they can’t provide the extra year and $30 million L.A. can, he may consider leaving money on the table as a fee to get away from Sterling.
Come July 1 many teams will have the cap space to sign Paul, but the list can be whittled down to teams that can contend right away, reside in a large, warm market, and are in need of an established point guard.
Los Angeles Clippers
Sterling’s recent comments and history of heckling his own players aside, the Clippers may have the best core of young talent, especially down low, of any team in the league. And they can offer Paul the most money in the second largest television market in the country.
Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan would represent the biggest cap hits, but the Clippers could build around that group over the next five seasons. Jordan’s contract is up at the end of 2015, but Griffin is locked in until 2017.
That’s without mentioning perhaps the best reserve point guard in the league in Eric Bledsoe, who could greatly reduce Paul’s minutes and extend his career.
Moving Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets freed up tons of cap space for Hawks, and put them in position to not only sign Paul but also the most coveted center on the market in Dwight Howard.
Next season, the Hawks have a league-low $18 million committed to salary, and could technically re-sign Josh Smith, along with Howard and Paul. And that’s without mentioning talented forward Al Horford.
That group could immediately challenge the younger, up-and-coming teams in the East like Indiana and Chicago, as well as mainstays Miami, Boston, and New York.
Smith has reportedly been on the trading block for the past two seasons, and he also believes he is worth a maximum contract. However, he might consider lowering his contract demands if Howard and Paul head south.
General manager Danny Ferry did an excellent job clearing all the cap space, but some doubt whether he can actually sign both superstars.
Going from one of the worst owners in all of sports to the one considered to the have the ear of his players like no other could be the biggest ball in the Mavericks court. Billionaire Mark Cuban has steadfastly stood by his players, and provides perhaps the best amenities in the league.
Texas also has no state income tax, which could help Paul forget about the extra year and almost $30 million he would be giving up should he leave the Clippers.
However, Dallas is also one of the team's tied to Howard, and Paul could be the Mavericks back-up if the center decides to re-sign with the Lakers.
Dirk Nowitzki will be a free agent after next season, which makes Dallas even more appealing with $20 million-plus in cap space to play with in 2014.
Cuban will also have to learn from a previous mistake of filming his reality television show rather than courting Deron Williams last year, and actually sit in on meetings with Paul and Howard’s advisors.
Prediction: The money will certainly be huge factor for Paul and his family. Does he want to uproot his them again, or stay in California with another guaranteed $30 million? The Clippers have already been tied to Paul’s former coach in New Orleans in Byron Scott, and the two reportedly have a very strong relationship.
With the extra money, and the L.A. market, Paul probably stays put. But the Mavericks remain the wild card.