The conversation became animated, an interaction the Golden State Warriors became familiar with regarding Chris Paul through various heated playoff and regular-season matchups.
The subject matter differed this time. Paul completed his first training camp with the Warriors determined that he can finally add an NBA championship to his eventual Hall-of-Fame resume. To do that, Paul has not shied away from confrontation. Yet, Paul has done so in ways that should leave Warriors fans more encouraged than concerned after the organization acquired him this past summer.
“I’ll talk to him about playing pick-and-roll. But he’ll say ‘Nah, I want to play like you all play!’” Warriors forward Kevon Looney told Sportsnaut. “ He’s been looking forward toward playing that style. I think it shows on the court.”
The Warriors will have more clarity on how the 38-year-old Paul will fit in with their championship-proven roster beginning with Tuesday’s season opener against the Phoenix Suns. Yet, the Warriors acquired Paul from Washington in exchange for a young albeit inconsistent player (Jordan Poole), another young player (Ryan Rollins) and three draft picks (first in 2030 and second in 2027) with strong convictions that he could morph from a disruptive opponent into a strong ally.
With Paul only missing an NBA championship to his Hall-of-Fame resume, the Warriors believe he will gladly adjust his role around the team’s championship core players (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green). With Paul nursing injuries in recent seasons in Phoenix, the Warriors anticipate they can reduce his workload because of their roster depth. And though the Warriors fully know what it’s like to deal with Paul’s maniacal competitiveness, they also trust that same quality explains his strong ability to adjust his game as a scorer and playmaker.
“Chris is a really smart player, one of the smartest players that I’ve ever seen both as an opponent over the years and now this year during camp,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You just see his intelligence. He’s so thoughtful. He’s so particular about every possession. Smart players tend to figure things out quickly, especially when they’re playing with other smart players. So, I have no doubt it’s going to be a great fit.”
A strong segment of Warriors fans may have seemed skeptical of Paul’s fit for reasons beyond once loathing him, particularly as a playoff opponent with the LA Clippers and Houston Rockets. After Paul initially bristled at a reporter’s question about accepting a bench role, they took it as defiance that he expects to start every game as he has done so far in his NBA career.
After Kerr announced that he had “six starters,” including Paul, they lamented the Warriors acquiesced more to Paul’s Hall-of-Fame credentials than Paul abided to the Warriors’ proven team-oriented culture.
Chris Paul and his role with the Golden State Warriors
More nuance has emerged out of those developments, however, that should leave the Warriors feeling encouraged. Chris Paul initially bristled about accepting a bench role because the inquiry came from a reporter before Kerr even talked to him about it. Kerr wants to keep his starting lineup fluid both for matchup and performance purposes. More importantly, Paul has shown more of a willingness thus far to fit into the Warriors’ ecosystem than expecting the franchise to cater to him.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’m all about winning,” Paul said at the Warriors’ media day. “Whatever I can do to help our team win. I know
Coach and us, we are going to talk about it and see what it likes like.
We’ve been hooping all summer. I think for the season, it’s going to be whatever to help our team win. I think I’ve at least tried to show or proven that my entire career.”
Paul captured that dynamic perfectly with Curry and Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser following a recent practice. Then, the three discussed how Paul can move off-the-ball and set up Curry for open 3s, a strategy that once frustrated Paul as an opponent.
Paul repeatedly completed the subsequent drills to perfection. During other exchanges, Curry said he and Paul have often talked discussed ways “we can find that middle ground where he adapts and we adapt together.”
“I like the way we’ve been communicating,” Curry said of Paul. “The biggest thing for him is to continue to be who he has been his whole career. He’s elevated every team that he’s been on. If we bring our egos and our collective competitiveness and also understand there is going to be some sacrifice that needs to happen along the way from everybody, then we’ll put ourselves in the best chance to be successful.”
Nonetheless, the Warriors seem mindful it may become easier to accept sacrifices during the honeymoon stage.
Kerr has described Paul as “a really active participant” in film sessions with an eagerness to learn a new system. What about when Paul believes those concepts won’t work against a particular opponent? Looney praised Paul for taking ownership of any miscues and for offering positive reinforcement after a teammate makes a mistake.
How will Paul react if those issues happen in a more consequential game? Paul presumably will embrace his starting role on opening night considering that Green will remain sidelined with a sprained left ankle. How will Paul handle a different role possibly as soon as when Green returns?
No wonder Curry talked about more about the unknown future than the certain past when assessing whether the Warriors and Paul can bring out the best in each other.
“The game itself will tell you what needs to happen as we go through the season,” Curry said. “We can have the perfect plan and get thrown a curveball with how teams are going to guard us or different playsets that work and don’t work. You have to be able to adjust on the fly. But as long as we’re connected on trying to elevate each other and him trying to elevate us as a team, that has to be the intentions behind everything. The rest will kind of take care of itself.”
The Warriors and Paul have legitimate reasons to believe, however, that both parties can navigate any turbulence.
Paul has butted heads with past teammates, but more because his demanding personality and work ethic didn’t jibe with theirs. His disciplined work habits fit more in line with the Warriors’ culture, making it less likely any tension will arise.
Through all of his stops with New Orleans, the Clippers, Houston, Oklahoma City and Phoenix, Paul has willingly adjusted his game to fit into the team dynamic. Though he never has played in a motion-heavy offense, Paul obsessively watches games and studies his playbook enough that he will likely figure out the latest puzzle just fine.
All of which leads to the most important question: will the Golden State Warriors’ partnership with Paul work?
“Definitely,” Looney said. “I think it’s been off to a good start. There is always going to be a learning curve a little bit. But I think it’s been good. He’s scoring at a high rate. The more we play, the more the turnovers will come down. We’ll start gelling even more. I think we can be a pretty dynamic offense.”