Warriors newcomer Chris Paul can win the room with 11-word declaration originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
Sometime before next Monday, when Paul and his new teammates gather for media day at Chase Center, the veteran guard can issue 11 words that would silence the chatter regarding his role.
“I want to win. Everything else – including my role – is secondary.”
Such a selfless statement would be welcomed by coach Steve Kerr, by general manager Mike Dunleavy, by every player in the locker room. The discerning citizens of Dub Nation – many of whom sighed when Paul insinuated that he might be in the starting lineup – would let bygones be bygones and warm to his presence on their favorite team.
A sincere declaration by Paul would clarify the deliberately ambiguous statement Kerr made when he met with media on Monday.
“We basically have six starters,” he said. “... and only five can go each night.”
Kerr won’t address the starter-or-Sixth-Man issue because he’s being respectful to Paul, a future Hall of Famer whose pride is wide enough to block out the sun.
The matter of whether Paul, 38, would start or come off the bench has danced about the minds of Warriors executives, coaches, players and fans since July. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that he has been a starter since his NBA debut in 2005, five teams and 1,214 games ago.
Most of it, however, began with Paul’s cheeky reply to a question that presumed he was coming to the Warriors to lead the second unit.
“You coaching?” Paul responded when asked about his role. “I don’t know what the situation is going to be yet. That’ll be for us to figure out once we get going.”
Paul’s tone and impish grin implied he still considers himself a starter, no matter the roster. Indeed, the reply was enough to suggest Paul thinks enough of himself and his game, even now, that he could come to training camp and perform wonderfully enough to force Kerr to abandon the starting lineup that last season was the best in the league.
Golden State’s starting lineup – featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney – posted an NBA-best 21.9 net rating (128.0 on offense, 106.1 on defense). Nothing about the team’s exasperating 2022-23 season went as well as the work submitted by that quintet.
To put this into perspective, the league’s No. 2 starting lineup – Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokić of the Denver Nuggets – finished second with a 13.1 net rating. That was good enough to win the 2023 NBA Finals.
Kerr would need a very compelling reason to go away from a lineup that is highly effective despite operating with three shooters in a league where most contenders start least four. The Curry-Thompson-Wiggins-Green-Looney lineup succeeds mostly because the roles are clearly defined, and the five players generally maintain a floor harmony that’s almost symphonic.
“I know these guys well,” Kerr said. “I know five of them really well and I'm getting to know Chris. The one thing I know about all of them is they want to win more than anything. They are an incredibly competitive group, and I'm very confident that we'll figure it out and the guys will buy in and find a way.”
Kerr also knows he has in Paul another intelligent player with a clear understanding of schemes and strategies. Paul can play with starters, but his greatest value to the Warriors is his potential to nourish the nascent skills of youngsters Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. Paul and fellow veteran Dario Sarić, a high-IQ big man, can perform and educate in real time.
The second unit needs Paul and Sarić. The traditional starters will benefit from occasional support from them. A different wrinkle. An occasional refresh. Consider them part-time starters.
“I haven't decided yet what we're going to do,” Kerr said. “I want to see training camp. We are going to try different combinations and take a look. Obviously, all six guys are going to play a lot of minutes for us.
“But if this is going to work, then everybody has to embrace it – regardless of who is starting and who is not. It only works if the whole team buys in.”
The longtime core, knowing what it takes to win a championship, is on board. Paul, with 11 words, can prove he is, too.