Player Resource: Leadership – Chris Paul

Dan Woike, Orange County Register (http://www.ocregister.com/articles/paul-689454-point-call.html)

Call him a wizard with the basketball. Call him a once-in-a-generation point guard. Call him competitive.

Call him out on not getting past the second round of the playoffs. Call him abrasive. Call him stubborn. Call him too demanding.

Clippers guard Chris Paul would probably be just fine with it.

But bad teammate?

“There are a lot of things you can say about me or what-not, but that’s not one,” Paul said. “I’m competitive and I want to win – you can say a whole lot of stuff about me – I’m not a saint by any means.

“But that’s the one thing you cannot say.”

Two years ago, the team blew a golden opportunity against Oklahoma City, thanks in part to Paul’s nightmarish final minute, complete with turnovers, fouls and, eventually, a back-breaking defeat.

Last season ended with similar heartbreak, the Clippers squandering their point guard’s heroics against San Antonio in the next round against Houston, blowing a 3-1 lead in gut-punching fashion.

“People have no idea how (expletive) hard it is to win. It’s so hard to win once,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Winning a title takes every ounce of you, but just not every ounce of you but every ounce of your teammates. Everybody has to buy in. Everybody has to be healthy. Everybody has to be playing well at the same time. You have to get the loose balls. There are so many things that people don’t get that it takes to win. You need breaks. You need everything to go your way.

The goal, like always, is for Paul to be as close to perfect as possible.

He’s a player who avoids turnovers like they were gas station sushi. He controls the game in a way few in the NBA can, instructing his teammates like he’s an expert at all five positions.

And sometimes, it can be too much.

“Chris studies it more than everybody. He watches it more than everybody. The only thing I’ve told Chris is that you don’t have to be a play-by-play announcer during the game,” Rivers said. “Just play. You don’t have to tell them what they are and aren’t doing all time.

“It’s an amazing thing that he even knows.”

This is where some of the issues with Paul and his teammates come from at times, but Rivers’ son, Austin – a point guard just like his dad – thinks it’s a necessity.

“Not everybody is going to like the point guard. Sometimes, you have to be an (expletive). Straight up,” Austin said. “The point guard is the least liked person on every team – the good ones – because he’s the one that’s going to put you in your place. He’s the one that’s going to tell you the truth. He’s going to yell at you.

“… All the good point guards have to be the bad guy sometime.”

Austin Rivers compared his teammate to a “commander” on the floor – someone who gives orders – and to a teacher off of it.

“Deep down, he has to know he’s one of the best ever,” Austin said. “He’d never tell you that. But, you see it in his game. And, he teaches that. He’s a leader, man. That’s all I can say to explain how he is.”

Talking to Paul about why he leads the way he leads is fairly fruitless. He’s scarce with details when it comes to an abstract notion like “leadership.”

It’s not calculated, really. It’s natural – a part of who he is.

He doesn’t question whether the “bad teammate” rap that surfaced this summer could be true.

He played in all 82 regular-season games last year for the first time, a tremendous feat considering the burden he carries on both sides of the ball.

“It’s hard,” Doc Rivers said. “You’re up full court. You got to come back to get the ball. You’ve got to push the ball. You have to run the offense. You have to make sure everyone is in the right place. And then, when the other guy has the ball, you’re up full court because he has the ball. The point guard spot is no joke.”

He also has become a smarter player – the biggest single tool he’s used to maintain his place among the game’s elite – as he has aged. He’s a master of the pick and roll, deadly from the mid-range and, like Doc Rivers said earlier, aware of everything on the court.

“I just know so much more about the game. I was thinking about this the other day … if I could take my mind now and put it in that body,” he said, stopping to chuckle before continuing, “when I used to dunk and be athletic, it’d be something awesome.”

But not as awesome as what the future could hold.

Anyone around Paul knows the importance his family plays in his life. He wears his children’s names on wristbands; an icon honoring his murdered grandfather is on every pair of his signature shoes.

But over the course of a conversation, Paul begins to use the word family when talking about the Clippers. He’s entering his fifth year with the organization, his fifth with Jordan and Blake Griffin.

“You mature over those years,” Paul said. “Different things happen to change you. We talk about that stuff.”

The real story might be more about togetherness – about a group that stuck it out and played for each other.

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