By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
The NBA Conference Finals were notable this season because of the lack of competitiveness. In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers rolled to a 4-1 victory over the Boston Celtics, after sweeping both the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors in the first two rounds. In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors rattled off 12 straight victories against the Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs to make it to a third consecutive NBA Finals matchup with the Cavs.
While no team seems to be a legitimate threat to the powerhouse Cavs and Warriors, the team that seems closest is the San Antonio Spurs. Had MVP-candidate Kawhi Leonard not been injured in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs would have had a stronger showing against the Warriors, and Leonard is just now entering the prime of his career.
How the Spurs have remained so good through the retirement of All-Pro big man Tim Duncan has been impressive, but despite Leonard’s injury, it’s clear that they’ll need to do something this offseason to close the gap that separates them from the Warriors.
Rumors are swirling that Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul has interest in joining the Spurs. Paul has long been an elite player at his position, and even though he is now 32 years old, he’s averaged at least 16 points and nine assists per game in each of his last six seasons, including 18.1 points and 9.2 assists last year.
Paul has struggled with injuries at times during his career, but he’s an excellent defender and is one of the best facilitators in the game during an era where that skillset has become less defined. He shot 41 percent from beyond the arc this past season as well, a career high, and an indication that he’d be a perfect fit in the Spurs’ flow-offense.
The Spurs will need to figure out how to make the money work if they’re going to sign Paul, as he will likely command a max-level contract. But if the interest is mutual on both sides and Paul wants to go somewhere with a chance to challenge the dominant Warriors before his window closes, the Spurs may be his best, and only opportunity. No other team has the firepower to contend with this Warriors team over the next two seasons, and Paul may be running out of time.
Paul has never been to a conference finals in his 12-year career, and going to the Spurs, who have been perennial contenders for nearly two decades, must be appealing for the veteran. The Spurs should also return a healthy Tony Parker and former All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to help Leonard next season, and they have one of the greatest coaches in league history in Greg Popovich.
No one gets more out of his players than “Pop,” and Paul’s famous competitiveness would be a welcome addition to a team that expects to compete every game. Pop has also shown that he knows how to limit the minutes of his veteran players to help them stay fresh for the playoffs without hurting the team. At Paul’s age, and with injuries affecting him in five of the past six seasons, his career longevity may improve in San Antonio.
The Spurs need to do something if they’re going to compete over the next two years, and Chris Paul will need to flee the Clippers if he wants a legitimate shot at a deep playoff run before he hits the twilight years of his Hall of Fame career. While many would lament the creation of another so-called super team in the NBA, the Spurs and Paul may need to take this approach in order to make the Western Conference more competitive.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.