Five minutes into the Golden State Warriors’ third game of the season, with his team down 13-7, head coach Steve Kerr looked to his bench for a spark. Seconds later, Chris Paul walked up to the scorer’s table, ready to check in and provide a luxury Golden State has never had before.
For 18 seasons, Paul had started every game he’d appeared in, earning 12 All-Star selections, 11 All-NBA nods, and a reputation as one of the best point guards in NBA history. But now, in San Francisco, Paul finds himself in a new position, plying his steady hand off the bench as Golden State seeks to prolong its dynasty.
“It’s figuring it out,” the 38-year-old told me of his new situation. “It’s going to be a process, but at the same time, you want to win in the process.”
Paul’s integration into the Warriors began immediately after the team acquired him from Washington in the Jordan Poole trade in early July. Right away, he traveled to Las Vegas to work out with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. When training ended, Paul spent the evenings with his new teammates, enjoying wine and food and strategizing how to get the Warriors back to the mountaintop. As the summer wore on, Paul took frequent trips to the Bay Area from his Los Angeles home to work out at the Chase Center practice facility. One day in September, Paul got word that Curry would be in the gym for open runs, so he booked a 6 a.m. Southwest flight to get early experience playing alongside his new sharpshooting teammate.
The first three months of Paul’s tenure have brought harmony to Golden State. The Warriors’ 2022-23 campaign was marred from its inception; Green’s punch of Poole during training camp fractured the team, and it could never quite recover. But so far this season, the energy around the Warriors seems reminiscent of the joyful vibe that carried them through the early days of their dynasty. They have jumped out to a 6-2 start that has them third in the West entering Wednesday’s road test against the defending champion Denver Nuggets.
“Last year was horseshit,” Green told reporters last week. “It was hard to come to work, not fun. And so this year, you see the joy on guys’ face when they come in the building. You got guys staying over two or three hours after just sitting around talking, getting here two and three hours early just to be here. You start to see that, and you’re like, ‘OK, this is a group that likes being together.’”
Warriors players and staff say Paul’s presence has been a boon to team chemistry. After games, Paul often hangs back in the training room discussing strategies with assistant coaches, reminiscing on old times, and fostering an environment that contrasts with the gloomy silence that permeated similar spaces last season.
During the later years of Paul’s career, his most successful stints have come in a mentorship role to younger teammates, guiding the likes of Devin Booker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander along All-NBA trajectories. With the Warriors, Paul’s patience is balancing out Green’s prodding leadership style.
Paul’s latest project is Jonathan Kuminga, the 21-year-old forward whom the Warriors drafted seventh in 2021. Starting in the summer, Paul has schooled the third-year wing on everything from eating habits to how to fit into Golden State’s offense—and Kuminga has put those lessons to good use. He’s averaging a career-high 12.7 points through eight games and posting a 115 offensive rating when he shares the court with Paul.
“That’s my guy, man,” Kuminga said of his new mentor. “Telling me where I need to be on the floor. Telling me places where I need to be to get my shit going. Just small instructions, man. Small details.”
Other Warriors have also appreciated Paul’s tutelage. “[Paul is] somebody that knows how to relay his message to everybody,” Kevon Looney told me last month. “He’s good at knowing when to say things and knowing how to hold guys accountable and different things like that. It’s good to have two guys like that. Draymond always been the guy, but that’s putting a lot on him that he’ll be the only guy yelling at us, so he’s got somebody else that’s with a résumé like his and just backing that same message, makes everything make more sense.”
During previous title runs, Golden State surrounded its core with stable veterans like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and David West to offset Green’s volatility. But for all their success over the past decade, the Warriors have often struggled to integrate bigger talents and stronger personalities. When Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors in 2016, he hoped to feel as integral to the organization as Curry, Green, and Klay Thompson. But by the end of his tenure, Durant became isolated and left for Brooklyn in a sign-and-trade. Four years after Durant’s departure, Poole’s difficulty fitting in around the Warriors’ established stars ultimately led to his trade to Washington. Now, the Warriors are attempting to implement all they’ve learned from the past to make sure that Paul doesn’t experience the same fate.
“I just think it’s a process,” Kerr said. “This is how it was with Kevin, and I think this is how it’s going to be with Chris. It’s a process of the player trying to fit in with us and us urging the player to be himself.
“One of the things I’ve told Chris is that we need him to influence us, too,” Kerr said. “If he wants to take four midrange jumpers in a row, I would love nothing more because he’s automatic. So I think it’s him understanding that he gets to be him, too. He doesn’t have to just cater to us.”
Paul’s skill set has also opened new possibilities for the Warriors on the court. Since Durant left, Golden State has been desperate to find someone to stabilize the team when Curry is off the floor. Eight games into the season, the Warriors arewithout Curry. And when the two point guards share the floor, Paul’s stability has been the perfect complement to Curry’s improvisation.
In an early-season matchup with Sacramento, Kerr turned to Paul in the waning minutes of the first half, inserting him alongside Curry with the Warriors down six. Paul scored two quick points, dished an assist, and stole two passes to send the Warriors into the break up three. In the second half, during a three-minute stretch without Curry, Paul helped Golden State extend its lead from four to nine points. By the end of the night, the Warriors and Curry—who finished the evening with 41 points—were giddy about how Paul’s play was meshing with the roster.
“He connects all the lineups,” Curry told me following the win. “He’s a gamer, a competitor, he lives and breathes basketball. And even at his age, he knows how to influence games with his brain and his IQ.”
Many NBA observers were pessimistic about Paul’s fit with the Warriors, skeptical that he’d take a bench role or jell with the established identity of his new team. “I think you just always got to be careful how you pose a question,” Paul said of those doubts. “Are you posing a question, or are you making a statement? So I think for me … we’re going to see how this all works. And if that means some games coming off the court, whatever that means, man, I said it before, I know who I am and what I bring to a team. So we ain’t worried about that.”
Finding his place on the Warriors has been a collaborative process for Paul. He frequently communicates with Kerr, looking for ways to integrate into Golden State’s fast-paced offense. “He’s a phone call guy,” Kerr told me. “He likes talking, which I love. So we’ve had a dozen conversations about our team. And he’s so smart that he just automatically feels the game and understands different players’ tendencies.”
At this stage of the season, almost everything about the Warriors is fluid. Through eight games, Paul has started two. And with seven new additions to the roster, including the signing of rookie G Leaguer Gui Santos this week, Kerr has yet to pin down a regular rotation.
“I don’t think we are satisfied with anything right now,” Kerr said. “We’re still in the stages of exploring and looking at different lineups, thinking about different combinations.”
But in recent games, Paul has provided a blueprint for how he can ease this transition. Last week, he engineered a one-point, 13-assist masterpiece, helping the Warriors beat the Thunder 141-139. Three nights later in Detroit, he added 17 points and six assists to help the Warriors to their fifth road win. And though he’s the newest addition to the Warriors core, Paul is already endearing himself to Golden State’s foundational pillars.
“It’s been awesome,” Thompson said. “I mean, anytime you get to play with a Hall of Famer, you got to learn a lot, and I just, it’s been a joy to play with him. It takes a lot of pressure off of Steph and our ball handlers because he’s one of the greatest to ever handle the rock.”
Adversity will come for these Warriors eventually. There will be swoons, tests of their chemistry, and injuries that could complicate Kerr’s lineup options. Meanwhile, questions about this team’s future loom: Thompson, who is eligible for an extension, could become a free agent after this season. Paul is also playing out the last year of his deal, with no security beyond this spring. But for now, a few months into his Warriors tenure, Paul is making a hell of a first impression.
“It’s been cool, man,” Paul said. “In anything, as you get older, you learn things, you appreciate things more, and I think more than anything, we’re competitors before anything. So I’m excited to see what we all can do.”
SOURCE : www.theringer.com