Free agency is a distant, fleeting idea for Chris Paul now, an All-Star game MVP under his arm and a Western Conference championship within his reach. He's planning to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, punctuating his pick-and-roll partnership with Blake Griffin with a maximum contract extension and final say about every move their franchise now makes.
When the West's 143-138 All-Star Game victory was on the line Sunday night, Paul played the point perfectly, distinguishing himself as a worthy heir to Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas with 20 points and 15 assists. For all the suspicions of Paul and Dwight Howard manipulating the system to make the 2013 free-agent market about them, Paul has drained the drama out of his decision and the dysfunction out of the franchise.
"If Chris wants Vinny [Del Negro], he'll be the coach," one source tied to the Clippers and Paul said. "If Chris wants [Kevin Garnett], they'll push harder for it."
The way Paul didn't need Howard on the floor in the final minutes of the All-Star Game, he doesn't need him in his future. For all the salary-cap space cleared in Dallas and Atlanta – those franchises fantasize luring Paul and Howard together – Paul's greatness has made the Clippers a destination.
Who would've thought, but it's true: For the older guys wanting to take less money to win, the Clippers are the choice over the Lakers now. That's on Paul and that was in full bloom in the All-Star Game.
"The No. 1 point guard we have in this league," LeBron James, the No. 1 player, marveled on Sunday night.