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Chris Paul’s health could be the biggest variable in his quest to end NBA title drought

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Amid the uncertainty on both his NBA championship prospects and his health, Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul holds strong convictions on at least one thing.

“I ain’t got no retirement ceremony,” Paul told Sportsnaut.

The 37-year-old Paul said family priorities with his wife (Jada), 13-year-old son (Chris), and 10-year-old daughter (Camryn) will influence whether he will play out his contract that expires after the 2024-25 season. The other variable is Paul’s health. This season, Paul missed a combined 21 games to heal injuries in his right heel (14 games; Nov. 9-20, 2022) and in his right hip (seven, Jan. 8-21, 2023). Paul also sat during the Suns’ final two regular-season games for rest purposes.

With the No. 4 Suns (45-37) hosting the No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers (44-38) in the first round of the NBA playoffs on Sunday, this isn’t the first time Paul enters the postseason with questions about his durability. He nursed serious ailments during the Suns’ 2021 NBA Finals loss to Milwaukee (right hand) and last season’s second-round playoff exit to Dallas (left quad).

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With the Clippers, Paul labored through a hamstring injury while squandering a 3-1 second-round series lead to Houston (2015) and a right-hand injury during a first-round exit to Portland (2016). Paul nursed another hamstring injury with Houston in the middle of a seven-game West finals series loss to Golden State (2018).

“I’ve been blessed to be through a lot and go through a lot,” Paul said. “You just keep doing the work. It’s just about understanding that you can’t go back to the beginning of the season. You can’t change what is already happening.”

Chris Paul on NBA title: ‘No one wants it more than I do’

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

That perspective might explain The Athletic’s recent story that revealed the majority of polled players selected Paul and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard as players they most want to win their first NBA championship.

“I appreciate it. No one wants it more than I do,” Chris Paul said. “It’s cool. I got a lot of guys around this league that I’ve known for a long time and have been close to, so I appreciate it.”

By no means does Chris Paul believe he needs that ring, however, to validate a Hall-of-Fame resume. He already has 11 NBA All-Star nods, 10 All-NBA team appearances, and nine NBA All-Defensive team honors. He already ranks third on both the NBA’s all-time assists and steals list, respectively.

“I just keep playing,” Paul said. “I just keep going. That’s my mindset.”

Nonetheless, Paul’s championship chances hinge more than on just his health. Consider that Kevin Durant (14 games; right knee and left ankle), Deandre Ayton (10 games; left ankle and right hip) and Devin Booker (five games, left hamstring and groin) also nursed overlapping injuries this season. Or that the Suns acquired Durant before the NBA trade deadline partly at the cost of defensive wing depth (Mikal Bridges). Or that Paul has averaged a career-low in points per game (13.9), while still posting respectable numbers in field-goal percentage (44 percent), 3-point shooting (37.5 percent), and assists (8.9) per game.

“Because he’s had so many experiences, I think it allows for him not to get too high or too low,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “As competitive as he is, he probably feels like he can give more. But he hasn’t had a full complement of players.”

Nonetheless, Chris Paul has said he and his teammates have stayed more consumed with training habits and game plans than lamenting overlapping injuries. As Paul noted, “Things could be a lot worse.” After all, not all teams have two dynamic scorers (Durant, Booker) and a dynamic point guard (Paul). The Suns might field plenty of questions on how well Durant and Paul can stay away from the trainer’s room. They don’t face the same skepticism on how they can co-exist on the court.

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“You have to be able to adapt,” Paul said. “We’re adding one of the best players ever to play the game. Things are going to change with the way we play and the way different things happen. But the intensity is not going anywhere.”

Credit Paul for the Suns maintaining their intensity and fretting little about shot distribution. Even before Durant’s arrival, Paul willingly played more off-the-ball to ensure team balance and to preserve his workload.

“KD is just a basketball head. It’s not like he’s a shooter. He’s a basketball player. So the way we incorporate him with us is easy,” Paul said. “What I learned to play as a kid is to shoot, pass and dribble. If you’re not open, you pass. If you’re open, you shoot it. With that, I feel like I can play with anybody. I don’t care what team you put me on. I feel like I’m going to be fine.”

Etching his name in the NBA record books

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In related news, Chris Paul has further cemented his name in the record books this season. Paul became the only player in NBA history to record at least 20,000 career points and 11,000 assists. He also surpassed Michael Jordan for third place on the league’s all-time steals list (2,544). While Paul trails Jason Kidd (2,685) and John Stockton (3,265) on the NBA’s all-time steals list, Paul (11,501) also stands behind Kidd (12,091) and Stockton (15,806) on the league’s all-time assists list.

Kidd predicted recently that Paul will surpass him on both lists. When he learned of Kidd’s projection, Paul showed a wry smile before saying, “We’ll see; time will tell.”

That depends obviously on if Paul finishes the rest of his contract. That also depends on if Paul can mirror his career-season averages in assists per game (9.5) and steals per game (2.1). If he maintained those averages, Paul could surpass Kidd next season both for No. 2 on the NBA’s all-time assist list (within 62 games) and steals list (within 67 steals). Paul conceded the unlikelihood he would eclipse Stockton in the record books.

“My competitiveness won’t ever let me think about what I could’ve done had I not had all of the injuries I had,” Paul said. “But the thing about me is I’m grateful for where I’m at. I feel so good and excited. I don’t think, ‘Oh this is it.’ I’m still playing.”

And it is a mindset Chris Paul plans to have beyond the Suns’ upcoming playoff run.

Mark Medina covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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