CP3: 'I was really a part' of Big Easy
Chris Paul's trip to New Orleans to play in the All-Star Game will serve as more than a visit to the city in which he spent his formative NBA years.
This weekend will also remind Paul of the difficult journey out.
Paul, chosen by Western Conference coaches as a reserve, reflected on the trade that sent him to the Los Angeles Clippers in an interview with Yahoo! Sports, saying the Big Easy helped turn him into the player and man he is today.
I honestly can't say one negative thing about the city. If it were not for the city of New Orleans, I'm not who I am now. They just embrace you as family.” -- Chris Paul
"I was really a part of that city," Paul told the website. "I honestly can't say one negative thing about the city. If it were not for the city of New Orleans, I'm not who I am now. They just embrace you as family."
After missing 18 games with a separated right shoulder, Paul played in his second game Wednesday night since returning and helped lead the Clippers past the Portland Trail Blazers in what was surely one of the Clippers' most satisfying wins of the season.
It also set the stage for a dramatic homecoming of sorts for Paul, who left New Orleans in the middle of the night in 2011 after finding out he'd been traded, a situation he says left him overcome by his reaction and in tears.
"We got on the plane and I laid my head on the window after saying goodbye to the guys at the airport that I used to see all the time. I was emotional," Paul said. "You think you were going to have some time to let it set in. But as soon as it happened, all the memories, just leaving ...
"The trade happened at night, so it wasn't like you got to tell people bye. It happened and we were gone."
Paul was drafted fourth overall out of Wake Forest by New Orleans in 2005 and made an immediate impact, averaging 16.1 points and 7.8 assists as a rookie.
Two seasons later he was an All-Star, and he has gone back to the All-Star Game every season since -- Sunday's game will be his seventh straight.
"He just re-energized and brought life back into the organization," said Indiana Pacers forward David West in a separate interview with Yahoo. "We knew that he'd lead us to the right direction with the things he brought to the table."
West, who Paul called "my partner, my right-hand man," joined New Orleans as a rookie in 2003 -- he also was a first-round pick -- and had played with Paul every season before West said they had "open conversations" about leaving.
"We had talked about possibly sticking together. But once he realized that I was gone, I knew he was definitely going to check out," said West, who signed with the Pacers that same offseason in 2011 as a free agent. "It was time for us to find new space."
Despite hard feelings on the part of a wide swath of New Orleans fans, his teammates didn't have a problem with Paul wanting a trade, according to then-Hornets forward Carl Landry.
"There was a [second-year] GM, a team where you didn't know if it was going to be in the city tomorrow or next year as well as we didn't have an owner," Landry said. "You're owned by the rest of the 29 teams in the NBA. Chris deserved to have better. It's a game, but we all understand that it's a business."
Paul told Yahoo he played the best basketball of his career in New Orleans. But the Clippers, including new right-hand man Blake Griffin, are no doubt hoping for a career resurgence from Paul.
"It put us on the map," Griffin said of Paul's arrival. "For him to even want to come to the Clippers says a lot. Ever since then we've been to the playoffs and we're making strides to where we want to be."