Chris Paul

Starter or not, Chris Paul integrating himself with Warriors

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Chris Paul surely can afford priority boarding. Still, it had to be an interesting scene for some tired passengers wiping off early-morning cobwebs and seeing the star point guard on their flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

That was the reality in August when the Warriors had a handful of their younger players at Chase Center to get some work in. Steph Curry made sure to be there, so did his newest teammate and former rival. 

“Chris Paul took a Southwest flight at 6 a.m. to be up here for a workout one day,” Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. said Monday at Chase Center, one week before media day and the start of training camp. “These guys are all-in on making it work and us having a great season.” 

Can it work? Everyone collectively asked the same question the moment Dunleavy sent shockwaves throughout the NBA, acquiring Paul from the Washington Wizards in a draft-day deal that sent Jordan Poole to the nation’s capital.

The buzzword of the day between Dunleavy and Warriors coach Steve Kerr was “connectivity,” and Paul is a major part of the equation. Questions are going to continue, and rightfully so. Will Paul come off the bench for the first time in his NBA career? Or will Kerr opt to take his famed small-ball lineups to new heights and push someone to the bench?

Kerr on Monday again made it clear that will be resolved as training camp carries on, seeing the Warriors as a team that essentially has “six starters.” 

As far as the integration of Paul goes, Kerr has plenty to be happy right now. 

“I really like Chris because he likes phone calls and not texts,” Kerr shared. “Chris is old-school. He wants to talk and we've had four or five great conversations this summer. 

“I remember a few years ago pulling him aside after Phoenix beat us in Phoenix and I told him how much I admired him and his competitiveness and just his basketball intelligence. Obviously, we've had a lot of battles over the years.” 

Paul played against the Warriors 56 times in the regular season, going an even 28-28 over an 18-year span while averaging 20.9 points and 9.0 assists per game. He also has played against the Warriors 18 times in the playoffs, going an even 9-9 and averaging 17.8 points and 6.7 assists per game. His games against his new team in a Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns jersey intensified a competitiveness that now has to be put to the side. 

But he does at least have some history playing for Kerr, and doing so coming off the bench. Paul, in a game where Curry served as Kerr’s starting point guard, played 26-plus minutes (10 more seconds than Curry) in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game and produced a 12-point, 15-assist double-double where he also added six rebounds and two steals in the exhibition event. 

“I remember him taking over the game in the last five minutes and our team won,” Kerr said. “It was like yeah that guy would be fun to coach, so I'm thrilled to coach him. He's one of the great competitors I've ever seen. His command of the game, the way he controls the action, his teams tend to get a great shot, possession after possession after possession. 

“And he understands what wins. I'm really excited to coach Chris and I know he's really excited to be here.”

Paul in the fourth quarter of the 2015 All-Star Game scored 10 of his 12 points, along with dishing three assists and grabbing one rebound in the Western Conference’s 163-158 win. 

Concerns have been lessened by Paul working out with both Curry and Draymond Green on separate occasions, as well as Curry applauding how Paul’s influence and intelligence has rubbed off on 20-year-old Jonathan Kuminga. Player and coach already have shared a handful of phone calls, and conversations will ramp up with a big decision looming. 

Maybe a short flight from Southern California to the Bay is too much to read into. The gesture nonetheless is an indication of Paul’s mindset entering his 19th NBA season and first in a Warriors jersey. Switching sides will take time getting used to, and Paul’s role can fluctuate throughout the season. 

Kerr stressed Monday the importance of a strong start to the season on the floor and behind the scenes, and Paul undoubtedly will be a big reason for the Warriors’ success or stumbling out of the gates for the second season in a row. 

“If this is going to work, then everybody is going to have to embrace it – regardless of who’s starting and who’s not,” Kerr said. “It only works if the whole team buys in.”

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