STATELINE, Nev. – When Chris Paul made cryptic comments that turned his role with the Warriors into national debate, he provided many in the media and around the NBA with further bait for doubt.
Count Charles Barkley among those who see Golden State’s acquisition of Paul as a dubious transaction ripe for peril.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to work,” Barkley told NBC Sports Bay Area in an interview at the American Century Championship golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Resort this month.
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“It’s going to be interesting. That was my first thought.”
This was a few days after Paul’s introductory news conference as a member of the Warriors. Asked about possibly coming off the bench, Paul’s response implied he might have other ideas.
“You coaching?” he said of the prospect of leading Golden State’s second unit. “I don’t know what the situation is going to be. That will be for us to figure out once we get going.”
Asked if he’d be “willing” to come off the bench, Paul was less than definitive.
Golden State Warriors
“It’ll be a conversation for us when camp starts,” he said.
Cue the skeptics: There goes CP3, rocking the boat five minutes after being fitted for his jersey.
Paul has appeared in 1,363 NBA games, always as a starter. He has played for five different franchises, always hailed as a new leader. Starting and leading pretty much describe his career-long role.
Coming to the Warriors at age 38, however, means Paul must prepare to make some adjustments to the only routine he has ever known.
Understand that while Paul occasionally will start games, his primary role is to be the anchor of the second unit. After averaging more than 31 minutes in each of his first 18 seasons, that number will dip below 25 as the Warriors take measures to preserve CP3 for the postseason.
Paul might fight it, but he’ll have to accept it. Golden State coach Steve Kerr has no desire to change his traditional starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney – largely because it was the most efficient starting five in the league last season.
Though Barkley is a card-carrying member of Club Skeptical, he has numerous comrades, including a Warriors legend.
“I love the Golden State Warriors; was drafted by the Golden State Warriors,” Tim Hardaway said on FS1. “But CP3 does not fit their style of play.”
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said much the same a few days earlier.
“I don’t think it fits,” Smith said on draft night. “The reality is the fit is not ideal . . . I don’t see how this works.”
Some of the skepticism is rooted in curiosity. Will there be a power struggle? Can two elite point guards, Curry and Paul, coexist productively?
That should not much of an issue between two men who became professional rivals but whose relationship dates to their teen years in North Carolina.
If there is a relationship worthy of concern, it is that between Green and Paul. Two strong-willed men whose previous animosity will need to be eradicated. They are smart enough to handle that, but work is needed.
Much of the skepticism, however, stems from contrasting styles of play. The Warriors, behind Curry and Green, lean into uptempo basketball, typically ranking at or near the top of the NBA in pace. Paul has built a Hall of Fame career with a measured approach, dissecting defenses carefully and deliberately.
It’s a change of pace, yes, but there is precedent for the Warriors thriving with a change of pace. Shaun Livingston, whose style has similarities to that of Paul, spent five seasons coming off the bench to lead the second unit. He worked the midrange and the block for his own shots while also reading defenses and tossing dimes to teammates.
The result yielded three championships for the Warriors, and three rings for Livingston in his final five seasons.
Paul has appeared in one NBA Finals, as a member of Phoenix Suns team that lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021. He’ll enter his 19th season in search of a championship ring.
Which gives Barkley only the slightest pause.
“Chris is a great player,” he said. “Hall of Famer; going to be in the Hall of Fame whenever he retires.
“I’m not sure how that system is going to work together, but I’m glad he’s going to be on a good team.”
Whether Paul and the Warriors can form a successful union will be decided by two factors. One, the health of the team’s stars. And, two, how much is late-career CP3 prioritizing the pursuit of his first ring?