SAN FRANCISCO – Like an 18-year NBA veteran who has been subjected to 5,000 interviews, often about similar topics, Chris Paul sat at the podium wearing his Warriors jersey and made a subtle attempt to cool The Great Role Ruckus.
You know, the issue that wheezed through the Warriors all summer: Starting lineup, or off the bench?
“I actually had an opportunity in '08 to come off the bench for the Olympic team . . . and that went pretty well,” Paul said at Warriors Media Day on Monday. “I think anybody who knows me knows that I'm all about winning. You know what I mean? Whatever I can do to help our team win.
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“Coach [Steve Kerr] and us, we are going to talk about it and see what it looks like. We’ve been hooping all summer. For the season, it's going to be whatever to help our team win, and I think I've at least tried to show or proven that my entire career.”
Those words indicate Paul, who never has played for an NBA champion, is at least open to filling any role that increases his chance of achieving that goal in the 39th year of his life and 19th of his career.
The ruckus sprouted in July. The belief among most around the NBA was that the Warriors acquired Paul to be the third guard, behind established starters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, installed to lead the second unit.
Golden State Warriors
Paul, in his first interview as a Warrior, made it clear that no such decision had been conveyed to him and that his role was yet to be determined.
Which is not an odd response from a 12-time NBA All-Star with five top-five finishes in the MVP voting, the most recent coming only 16 months ago. Paul has been in the starting lineup for all five jerseys he has worn and for all 1,214 NBA games in which he has appeared.
The bench never has been a place Paul rents, only one he visits – until now.
“We did have the best starting lineup in the league,” Draymond Green pointed out. “So, you can't ignore that.
“And yet you can't ignore Chris Paul is Chris Paul. He is very much so Chris Paul.”
Golden State’s starting lineup last season – Curry and Thompson at guard, Andrew Wiggins and Green at forward, Kevon Looney at center – had the highest net rating of any lineup, finishing well ahead of the starting five of the NBA-champion Denver Nuggets.
Kerr has been coy about his plans for Paul.
“We basically have six starters, the way I look at it,” Kerr said last week. “And only five can go each night. I haven't decided yet what we're going to do. I want to see training camp. We are going to try different combinations and take a look. Obviously all six guys are going to play a lot of minutes for us.”
There is no question Paul’s greatest value is in leading the second unit -- playing with Dario Šarić, an established vet who was a teammate in Phoenix, as well as getting maximum production out of Jonathan Kuminga, a spectacular athlete who occasionally flashes well but has lacked consistency.
There undoubtedly will be moments when Paul plays alongside the starters and is likely to finish more games than he starts.
“The bigger picture is that he is approaching everything the right way, and we're excited to have him,” Curry said. “We're excited to see what changes and ways we can adapt to him in the lineup and different rotations that we can put out there.
“CP is a Hall of Famer, and we know just the talent that he is will give us different looks. Whether it's from whatever lineup you're out there with or from possession to possession, who is initiating the offense for us to kind of work off each other because in theory, again, we all understand the game and know spacing and know how to cut, how to play off of each other. Our skillset to be able to shoot will open up hopefully a lot of lanes.
“We've got to figure out defensively in how we want to match up and all those types of things, but it should be a good challenge.”
Kerr has three weeks to evaluate lineups and combinations and determine rotations. He has a deep team, but Paul’s skills seem perfectly suited for the Sixth Man role, a bridge between starters and reserves.
These Warriors are not the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, but Paul’s willingness to play a similar role should ease a few minds.