DAN BICKLEY

Chris Paul’s leadership keeping outside noise away from the Suns

Nov 16, 2021, 6:30 PM | Updated: Nov 17, 2021, 8:45 am

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on before the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Ce...

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on before the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on November 14, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

Hail to Chris Paul, king of the ring-less. He deserves a NBA championship more than anyone. 

He is 36 years old. He has moved three times since 2017. He is coming off two incredibly stressful seasons with little rest in between. Last year, he led the NBA in free throw percentage (.934). He currently leads the league in assists (10.2) and steals (2.6) per game.

While other cowards in the NBA take nights off to rest their bodies, Paul is mastering the art of load management within games, starting off slow, picking his spots and taking over late. He is making jaws drop like never before. 

The other night he dribbled between his defender’s legs, caught the ball in stride and drained a mid-range jumper. It was smooth and ruthless and quickly dubbed the “Viral Nutmeg.” On Monday, he faked a no-look pass to a trailing Landry Shamet on a fast break, badly fooling a Minnesota defender. He then threw the ball between his own legs before missing a high-arching layupHe is playing the highest level of chess his sport can offer.

That’s not all. With Paul, it never is. 

As former head of the player’s union, Paul was credited for helping the NBA restart its season inside the Orlando bubble. He laid down a vision of what players would need to survive in such a restricted environment, from weight rooms to restaurants to entertainment options. He reportedly wept when he reported to the Grand Floridian hotel in Disney World, succumbing to the awe he felt in saving the sport he loves. 

Paul was also responsible for saving the postseason after the Bucks boycotted a game in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in WisconsinAt that moment, LeBron James reportedly wanted to quit entirely. Paul arranged for a conference call with former President Barack Obama and implored that cooler heads prevail. 

Paul instantly became the leader in Phoenix after joining the Suns in November 2020. That part is inviolate. Every team he plays for immediately becomes Chris Paul’s team. Shortly after, he went to work on Deandre Ayton. And he went hard, pushing the big fella to places no one else in the organization ever dared. It worked. 

This year, there are new distractions. An explosive ESPN investigation was published on Nov. 4, detailing allegations of racism and misogyny inside the Suns organization. Many of them involved majority owner Robert Sarver, who denied nearly all of the allegations.

Later that week, former pro and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose seemed to say that Sarver once called Ayton a “Lazy N-word.” A few days later, that comment was walked back, clarified and apologized for by the network’s Stephen A. Smith. 

Meanwhile, former Suns coach Lindsey Hunter was a guest on “The Odd Couple with Chris Broussard and Rob Parker” national radio show. Hunter claimed that former Suns general manager Lance Blanks once told him that Sarver used the N-world during a team meeting. Sarver has steadfastly denied using that particular word. 

Point is, there is a lot of noise, enough to derail a lesser basketball team. The official NBA investigation began on Tuesday, and more noise is on the way. Ayton even missed five games during that news cycle, and guess what? The Suns haven’t lost a basketball game since the report surfaced.

Their elite basketball culture is on display for everyone to see, uniquely suited to handling the headlines and potholes ahead. Head coach Monty Williams has a great deal of what he calls walking around sense. Booker has wisdom and maturity well beyond his years. And Paul is the perfect leader to get a team through a maelstrom, a veteran who has seen and done everything, who once worked for an owner currently in exile (Donald Sterling). 

Indeed. Hail to the Hall of Fame legend who never stops leading, talking or ceasing to amaze. Who never stops running the point, on and off the court. 

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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