In 2011, Chris Paul was supposed to become a Laker. After informing the then New Orleans Hornets that he would become a free agent at the end of the season, management worked tirelessly in order to create the best deal possible. They knew their leverage over the situation was growing weaker every day. Finally, the Hornets, Houston Rockets, and Los Angeles Lakers worked out a three-team trade that would have seen Paul moved to Los Angeles, while the Lakers would lose big men Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. Once news of the trade became public, both NBA fans and pundits began salivating. Chris Paul would finally have all the resources he would need in order to move past the second round of the playoffs. He would be going to one of the most storied franchises in league history. He would get to play with Kobe. Then, everything came crashing down. In a stunning move, former Commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade, citing unfairness. All three teams were shocked, with Paul tweeting a simple “Wow.”

Paul would ultimately end up in Los Angeles. However, instead of the storied Lakers, he joined their little brother, the Clippers. While Paul’s arrival undoubtedly changed the Clippers culture, ushering in the Lob City era, the fact remains that even with three perennial all-stars and a winning head coach, the Clippers have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs. They came closest in 2015, only to blow a three to one series lead to the Rockets. Paul is now six years older and just got traded to the Rockets. This experiment might only last one year as Paul is set to become a free agent next summer. The Clippers, who seem likely to lose not only Paul, but star Blake Griffin, will yet again look to retool this summer, bringing in NBA legend Jerry West to help build a contender. It’s hard to call Paul’s time with the Clippers a complete failure, but at the same time, even Chris Paul must wonder to himself, ‘imagine if the trade to the Lakers was approved? ‘  

Setting The Stage

In a world where Paul was traded to the Lakers, his legacy is forever altered. Joining forces with Kobe Bryant will do that. The Lakers spend the next two seasons retooling their roster and by 2013, they are in prime position to challenge the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder for Western conference supremacy. With the Lakers built to compete, NBA fans would be treated to a Kobe versus LeBron finals, an event that seemed inevitable the day Paul put on that Lakers jersey. Kobe’s final years are defined by competitive play and championship contention, surrounded by players he can trust to shoulder some of the load. Chris Paul is seen not as a playoff bust, but as someone born for post-season play. In 2014, it is Kobe and Paul’s Lakers, and not Tim Duncan’s Spurs, who manage to reach the NBA finals and stand in the way of LeBron and the Heat in their quest for a three-peat. Chris Paul becomes an NBA champion, winning Finals’ MVP with a masterful performance. Los Angeles is again the center of the Basketball world and the Lakers show no signs of slowing down.

 Chris Paul’s Legacy

Paul has had a fantastic career since entering the NBA with the Hornets as the fifth overall pick in 2005. Paul was NBA Rookie of the Year, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has led the NBA in steals and assists numerous times, and has been named to nine NBA All-Star teams, eight All-NBA teams, and now, nine All-Defensive teams. He is also the current President of the National Basketball Players’ Association and seems to have State Farm commercials running every 15 minutes on ESPN and TNT.

While Paul is viewed by many as one of the greatest point guards of all time, his resume remains stained by the fact that he has yet to win a championship. At this rate, he will find himself among the ranks of Dan Marino and Charles Barkley, on the wrong side of the superstar spectrum, unequivocally great and yet glaringly devoid of championships. Right or wrong, this is how we usually remember our sports heroes. Shaq reminds Barkley of this fact on a nightly basis. Kevin Durant stands as a prime example of a how a championship can change a narrative and Chris Paul would have benefited from that same boost.

If Chris Paul were traded to the Lakers, his legacy is defined by aggressive postseason competition and the role he played in elevating an aging Kobe back to NBA glory. With the addition of Paul, the Lakers would have been able to better manage Kobe’s minutes, prolonging his greatness. Free agents would clamor for the opportunity to join the duo in their quest for a second championship. In a world where Paul was traded to the Lakers, he remains their star point guard to this day. Sorry Lavar.

Kobe’s Third Act

The last couple of years of Kobe’s career were hard to watch. Aside from a memorable final night against the Jazz where he dropped 60 points (albeit on 50 shots), those last couple of years are remembered for the Lakers’ struggles, Kobe’s contract, and general managerial ineptitude. Kobe appeared to become increasingly isolated from his teammates, whom he viewed as lacking in passion and determination. The Black Mamba was never a good loser, and when the Paul trade was vetoed, that is exactly what the Lakers became. In the aftermath of Stern’s decision, the Lakers panicked, signing aging free agents to obscene contracts and eliminating any chance at contention in the final years of the Kobe era.

Had Paul joined the Lakers in 2011, instead of wasting away on a lottery team, Kobe would have once again made his way to the top of the NBA. Rather than being unmotivated and bitter, he would have been rejuvenated by his hunt for a sixth championship and the opportunity to tie Michael Jordan. In 2014, Kobe would accomplish this goal and today, no conversation about the greatest player of all time could end with Michael Jordan. Kobe has long said that he regrets never having a chance to face LeBron in the finals. In a world where Paul joins the Lakers, Kobe not only faces LeBron, but beats him, quieting NBA fans who forgot just how deadly the Mamba could be.  Kobe’s third Act ends with a bang, and whole lot of purple and gold confetti.

Alternate NBA Universe

If Paul’s trade to the Lakers was approved, the NBA would look considerably different today.

As previously mentioned, acquiring Paul would keep the Lakers relevant for years to come. He would have added the additional star power necessary in order to attract other big names out West. This type of success would also have a massive impact on the Lakers’ culture and Buss family dynamic. Jim Buss would be the architect of a championship team rather than on the wrong end of a coup, which stripped him of all authority. Needless to say, Buss family dinners would be a lot less awkward.

Not all teams would benefit from a Paul-Kobe duo. Instead of building an identity and beginning to emerge from the Lakers’ shadow, a Paul-less Clippers team would find themselves in the familiar position of failing franchise struggling for relevancy. Without Chris Paul, the Clippers would find themselves fighting for playoffs spots rather than division titles. With no sign of improvement, Blake Griffin requests a trade, forcing the Clippers into another rebuild. Lob City is never born and a young Deondre Jordan fizzles out of the NBA, never having the teammates necessary to help him grow as a player. In 2014, rather than leading his team through the tumultuous events leading to Donald Sterling’s removal as Clippers owner, Paul would be fighting for a championship. As awful as those events were for the franchise and players, without Paul’s strong presence and leadership, it’s not hard to imagine things going a whole lot worse.

Finally, had Paul joined the Lakers, the top of the Western Conference would have looked a lot more crowded. A healthy Lakers team would surely compete with the Spurs and Thunder, the two teams atop the West at that point. The Lakers would have stood in the way of Tim Duncan’s last championship and perhaps accelerated the process of Durant leaving OKC. Who knows? With what we know of Durant, he might have joined Kobe and Paul after losing to them in them in the 2015 Western Conference Finals.

As Chris Paul prepares to join the Rockets, he will look to make them a team capable of capturing a championship that has thus far eluded him. Meanwhile, we are all left to wonder, what if Chris Paul had joined the Lakers?

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Photo courtesy of: nytimes.com

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