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Clippers get Chris Paul in big trade with Hornets
A bold trade for New Orleans’ superstar point guard on Wednesday just might alter the entire sports world’s perception of the Clippers. After managing just six winning seasons in their first 41 years of existence, the bumbling Clippers suddenly look slick and scintillating after swinging arguably the biggest trade in franchise history, giving them two of the NBA’s elite players and a capable supporting cast.
Outfoxing the Lakers and thrilling their long-suffering fans, Los Angeles on Wednesday traded high-scoring guard Eric Gordon, former All-Star center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a first-round draft choice acquired from Minnesota for Paul, the four-time All-Star widely considered to be the NBA’s best point guard.
“We decided for a player of Chris‘ caliber that it was just time to make the move and push all our chips into the center of the table,” Clippers vice president of basketball operations Neil Olshey told the team’s website. “We’re really happy about it. Chris is the kind of player that makes everybody around him better. He’s a general. He wins. He’s a warrior, and he’s going to take this whole organization to the next level.”
Even the Clippers themselves had trouble believing what their front office had just done in the moments after the trade was announced. Most of the players _ including the ones who were traded _ were on a holiday bus ride with season-ticket holders when their phones blew up with the news.
It’s already a T-shirt in Los Angeles, and it should be a way of life when the playmaking Paul and the high-flying NBA Rookie of the Year get together.
While armchair analysts debate who won the trade and wonder whether the club can keep its newfound assets for the long term, it’s clear that suddenly the Clippers don’t seem to be the modern archetype for sports ineptitude.
Sure, Los Angeles has missed the playoffs 13 times in the last 14 seasons, going 32-50 last spring in the Clippers‘ 18th non-winning season in the past 19 years. The former Buffalo Braves have won just one playoff series since 1976.
And sure, the Clippers are still owned by Donald Sterling, the much-criticized real estate magnate who sometimes heckles his own players from his center-court seat. But the Clippers have been gathering momentum since Olshey replaced Mike Dunleavy in March 2010, patiently stockpiling good players around 2009 top pick Griffin while making runs at free agents such as LeBron James, who gave them a courtesy meeting last summer before heading to Miami.
When Paul made it clear he wouldn’t sign a contract extension with the Hornets and was interested in playing in Los Angeles, the Clippers watched while the Lakers’ three-team trade for Paul was blocked by the NBA last week _ and then they pounced, offering a deal that not even Commissioner David Stern could reject.
“It was a pivotal moment for us,” Olshey said. “It took a long time to accumulate the assets for a deal like this.”
The 26-year-old Paul is in his basketball prime after averaging 18.7 points and 9.8 assists in his sixth season in New Orleans, which he capped by almost singlehandedly throwing a scare into the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
Paul will earn $16.4 million this year, and he’s expected to exercise his player option for the 2012-13 season, making $17.8 million. The Clippers are counting on it, hoping two seasons with Griffin will entice both players to form a long-term partnership.
For Paul, Wednesday night’s trade means no more lame-duck practices _ or ducking questions _ in New Orleans. He’s headed from the Bayou backwater to the bright lights of North America’s second-largest market, teaming up with a forward whose finishing skills are a playmaker’s dream.
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