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Missing St. Paul

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Published: February 17, 2010

Chris Paul is a player whose ability defies superlatives. The best point guard in the NBA. One of the 5 best players in the league. A gifted passer who can get to the rim at will and shoot from anywhere on the floor. His game is nearly without flaw, and yet, due to circumstance alone, he is saddled with a far less desirable superlative: the best irrelevant player in the NBA.

Look at the other players who occupy that illustrious top 5. Dwyane Wade has won a title. Dwight Howard just lost in the Finals. Lebron James has been to the second round of the playoffs 4 straight years, the Finals once, and could win his first title this year. Kobe Bryant just won a title and is the odds-on favorite to repeat

When talented players know how to play team basketball, they’re supposed to be greeted with success. When once in a generation point guards can shoot from anywhere, play defense, and get their teammates open shots in seemingly impossible situations, they’re supposed to be gods within the league. Fans want nothing less from their stars, because that’s what the NBA is: a league of stars. It’s a sport defined by the very best players and their teams. Bird’s Celtics. Jordan’s Bulls. Kobe’s Lakers. Paul’s Hornets ought to be in that group, or at least the group of teams that challenged those teams, like those of Malone and Barkley.

Unfortunately, that is impossible. The Hornets have painted themselves into a corner that they cannot get out of, both in terms of the quality of player they have and the quality they’re capable of obtaining. Paul has a contract through 2012, and the team would never trade him.

Sadly, this makes Chris Paul irrelevant. Basketball is not a sport of loveable losers, or one where fans accept failure. Half the league makes the playoffs, and nearly all of the league’s most excellent players lie within that group. Those rare great players that don’t make the playoffs are given labels like those applied to Iverson and Garnett: selfish, too unselfish, can’t make their teammates better, overrated. The descriptions of players that all too often simply didn’t have enough help.

So if you ever get the chance, watch Paul play. You won’t be disappointed, and in two years when he flees New Orleans, you’ll be there, knowing what everyone else was missing.

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