It’s an oft-repeated sentiment in online circles: Chris Paul is a loser. He can win in the regular season, but his teams never make deep playoff runs. If he really has been the best PG in the NBA for stretches of his eleven-year career, shouldn’t he have been able to drag one of his teams to at least the conference finals?
In this two-part series of descriptions, we will analyze the teams that Chris has been a part of and why they didn’t make it to the WCF. At the end, we will conclude with a conclusive conclusion: is Chris Paul, in fact, a loser, or is he a victim of the players around him?
2005-06 New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets (38-44, no playoffs): Chris’ rookie year was also the first year where David West was good: West scored seventeen points per game and was the Hornets’ leading scorer. The third- and fourth-leading scorers were Speedy Claxton and Desmond Mason. The real question is, how did this team win 38 games? And who in the hell is Kirk Snyder? (And was Chris Paul’s immediate stardom actually the root cause of the Supersonics’ relocation to OKC?) I mean, Kirk Snyder? He sounds made up.
2006-07 New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets (39-43, no playoffs): There is a slight improvement in the wins column, but at this point, Chris still is a loser, since he has lost more games than he has won. The Hornets managed to assemble a “big three” of West/Paul/Stojakovic, but Stojakovic only appeared in thirteen games. Meanwhile, Hilton Armstrong appeared in 54 games. This is the beginning of what I like to call the “Hilton Armstrong Era”. With a healthy Stojakovic this team definitely would have made the playoffs. The presence of Marcus Vinicius on the team had absolutely no bearing on the playoffs/not-playoffs situation.
2007-08 New Orleans Hornets (56-26, lost conference semis 3-4 against San Antonio): The Hilton Armstrong era continued with the big three in full force. Both Chris and David West averaged over 20 PPG. At this point Chris was already making a strong case for best PG in the league with his 11.6 assists per game. Not only that, he was making a case for best PLAYER in the league; .284 win shares per 48 is not a number that lies. In fact, there is no number that lies, so Fabricio Oberto was the 19th best player in the NBA that season. Things were definitely looking up at this point. The Paul/West dynasty would challenge for the top seed in the West for the next six-ten years. So everybody thought at the time.
2008-09 New Orleans Hornets (49-33, lost first round 1-4 against Denver): The dreaded R-word: REGRESSION. We can blame this on Stojakovic, who sort of sucked. Chris improved and West was still a beast, but Hilton Armstrong was a key bench guy (bad news) and Rasual Butler was the fourth-leading scorer (worse news). In the playoffs they pretty much got totally smushed by the Carmelo/Billups/Karl (George, not Coby) Nuggets. It was probably a “revenge series” for J.R. Smith as well. The Hornets, as they say, “got the pipe” in that series. Hard.
2009-10 New Orleans Hornets (37-45, no playoffs): Chris only played 45 games. I’m going to guess he was injured in some way. The big three was dead at this point because Stojakovic was not very good anymore. Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison contributed nicely in their rookie years, but with the team’s superstar out for half the season, it didn’t even matter. Now that I think about it, Chris probably got injured while punching Stojakovic for sucking. Another funny anecdote from this ill-fated season is that Hilton Armstrong only played eighteen games. My investigations into a pre-Facebook website called “MySpace” reveal many posts from Armstrong seeming to indicate that the team routinely “forgot” to bring him on road trips. And that’s how the Hilton Armstrong era ended. Soon, another, less important era would end as well.
2010-11 New Orleans Hornets (46-36, lost first round 2-4 against Los Angeles Lakers): The Hornets’ big three is officially dismantled just a few weeks into the season when the Hornets packaged Stojakovic and Jerryd Bayless for a collection of scrubs from the Raptors. Later the Raptors would waive Stojakovic. So what’s Chris to do? He was still clearly a top-ten player in the league, and he did technically drag his team to the playoffs, but he was surrounded by scrubs, so he only averaged a paltry (for him) 16/10 line. I can’t even tell who the third-best player on this team was. Probably Emeka Okafor.
2011 Offseason: Chris got traded to the Lakers for like five minutes before David Stern nixed the deal for “basketball reasons”. That’s fine because he probably wouldn’t have coexisted with Kobe anyway. Then he for real got traded to the other Los Angeles team. At this point in his career, you could reasonably say that he had simply been saddled with crummy teams which always featured not-quite-star David West as the second-best player. So Chris was not a loser. Yet.