- Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- After finishing practice on the eve of the Los Angeles Clippers' season opener, Chris Paul ran to the corner of the court where Gary Sacks, the team's vice president of basketball operations, had been watching from afar.
Paul quickly put his right arm around Sacks, watching as a handful of players went through drills for a few minutes before pulling Sacks in for a hug and walking off the court.
Sacks' name is rarely, if ever, brought up when talk of Paul's impending decision about whether to re-sign with the Clippers comes up -- but it should be. Paul passed on a chance to sign a three-year, $60 million extension with the Clippers this past summer but can sign a five-year, $110 million extension next summer and Sacks is one of the reasons the smart money may be on Paul staying in Los Angeles long-term.
When Sacks talks about Paul, he doesn't speak about him just as another player but as an extension of the front office. He views him as an extra scout, an extra coach and an extra brain he can pick when he's putting together the roster, alongside Clippers president Andy Roeser and head coach Vinny Del Negro.
"When you have a guy like Chris with the highest basketball IQ in the NBA, you'd be remiss not to listen to him and get his input," Sacks said. "If Chris is interested in a player, you'd be stupid not to listen to him."
The common perception about Paul's decision in the offseason is that the Clippers' revamped roster will have to win a certain number of games or get to a certain round of the playoffs this season in order to make Paul believe the organization is worth a long-term commitment. But Paul isn't just waiting to see how things play out, he's helping to shape them.
"A lot of guys would just stay in the background and let us make our moves and do what we think," Sacks said. "But to have his participation shows how invested he is and invested we are in him."
During the offseason, when Paul was in Europe preparing for the Olympics, he was in contact with his close friend and former teammate Willie Green and found out the Atlanta Hawks were in the market to trade Green. Paul immediately called Sacks with the news and a recommendation.
"Me and Willie are really close, and I asked if there was a chance we could get Willie," Paul said. "Something happened and Willie called me when we were Barcelona. He said, 'C.P. thanks man but I'm going to another team.' I said, 'Alright, I understand.' Then I remember getting a text when we were in London and the text said, 'We signed Willie Green.' I was ecstatic."
Sacks was able to acquire Green from Atlanta for the draft rights to Sofoklis Schortsanitis, a 2003 second-round pick who has never played for the Clippers and who most recently played for Panathinaikos Athens in Greece and Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. The Clippers knew how much Paul wanted Green and made it happen before he was dealt to another team.
A similar situation occurred when Paul returned from London and was playing pickup basketball at the Clippers' practice facility and ran into Matt Barnes, who had been a thorn in his side on the Lakers the past two seasons.
"I didn't know Matt was a free agent," Paul said. "When I found out, I was like, let's go try to get him. I would love to have him. Matt is one of those guys I hate to play against him but I love to have him on my team."
Paul talked to Sacks that day and within a week the Clippers had signed Barnes.
It was Paul who sold Chauncey Billups on returning to the Clippers after he suffered a season-ending Achilles tear last season and was considering going elsewhere. It was Paul who called Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford and outlined the winning culture they were building with the Clippers and convinced them this wasn't the same old team they used to know. And it was Paul who reached out to Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins before the Clippers signed them. Every player who has joined the Clippers since Paul was traded to Los Angeles last December can recall getting a recruiting pitch from Paul at some point before making their decision.
"When you get guys that believe in what you're doing and they take ownership in it, you can't lose," Sacks said. "Everyone needs to be invested. If you aren't invested then you're not really part of the team. It's important."
With these moves, Paul is not only invested in the team, he is also responsible for how this season plays out. This team's successes and failures will rest not only on his ability on the court but his ability as a talent evaluator off the court.
Sacks may say Paul's input was only a piece of the decision to sign players like Green and Barnes, but make no mistake about it, they're on the team because Paul wanted them to be on the team.
That's a good thing in terms of Paul feeling wanted, but who knows if those players will actually improve the team? Green was dealt for a player the Clippers drafted nearly a decade ago and has never played in the NBA. Barnes was available for the veteran's minimum before training camp. Neither is a lock to be a major contributor to a successful season.
Essentially handing the keys of the franchise over to your star player doesn't always play out well. The Cleveland Cavaliers allowed LeBron James to call the shots for much of his time in Cleveland before James realized it wasn't working and jumped ship.
Paul's role in putting together the Clippers' roster may well keep him in Los Angeles for the next five years. The Clippers can offer him a bigger market, more money and more power than any team in the league and he also has become close with Blake Griffin, who signed a five-year, $95 million contract extension with the Clippers in the offseason, and DeAndre Jordan, who signed a four-year, $43 million contract the season before.
As the season begins, the Clippers look like the perfect situation for Paul. Time will tell, however, if Paul's expanded role in personnel decisions is the perfect situation for the Clippers.
In his first full season in Los Angeles, the Clippers are very much Chris Paul's team.