Chris Paul will always consider L.A. his home

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Paul was linked to a possible return to Los Angeles with the Clippers or Lakers but is excited about joining the Golden State Warriors.

LOS ANGELES — Shortly after Chris Paul arrived for Fanatics’ inaugural fan merchandise giveaway event, the NBA star operated as he often does at practices and games. He went to work.

Paul folded clothes. He organized the various shirts and sweatshirts by size. He asked the various employees and volunteers how else he could help. Inevitably, though, Paul often paused in between fulfilling his temporary job description.

Fans and volunteers asked to pose with Paul for photos. Some reminisced with Paul about his six-year stint with the Clippers (2011-17). Others mourned that the NBA nixed the Lakers’ trade for him just before the 2011-12 season started.

“I moved to LA in 2011 and never left,” Paul said afterwards. “When I get a chance to see these people, I always appreciate it.”

That may have created some what-if feelings among Lakers and Clippers’ fans that hoped either team could acquire him shortly after the Phoenix Suns dealt him to the Washington Wizards as part of the Bradley Beal trade. Instead, the Warriors acquired Paul from Washington for Jordan Poole, Ryan Rollins, a protected 2030 first-round pick and a 2027 second-round pick. Paul didn’t reflect on the possibilities with playing for either LA team. Instead, he expressed appreciation for the Warriors after competing against them in heated playoff series losses with the Clippers in the first round (seven games in 2014) and with the Houston Rockets in Western Conference Finals (seven games in 2018) and second round (six games in 2019).

Paul said he already has talked and shared laughs with Stephen Curry over their previous competitive moments. Paul added he “absolutely” will talk to Draymond Green about re-signing a new deal with Golden State once he becomes an unrestricted free agent on Friday.

“I’m excited,” Paul said. “I know I’ve been sort of the sworn enemy for a long time. But I cannot wait to be there, and I cannot wait to help them win.”

After the Lakers eliminated Golden State in six games of the Western Conference semifinals, the Warriors concluded they would prioritize constructing a roster around Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson with established veterans over developing young players. With Poole showing inconsistency throughout his fourth season, the Warriors became open toward dealing him to match those priorities. With the first year of Poole’s four-year, $140 million extension kicking in, the Warriors also wanted to shed salary. That would help them avoid spending restrictions stemmed from the NBA’s new labor deal as well as give them more flexibility to retain Green this summer and Thompson when he becomes a free agent in the 2024 offseason.

The Warriors also sensed Paul would be amenable to a reduced role out of respect for the Warriors’ star players and depth as well as efforts to keep him healthy after nursing injuries in two consecutive postseasons with Phoenix. How does Paul believe he will fit in with that dynamic?

“Don’t know yet,” Paul said. “The fortunate part is I’ve played for 18 years and I’ve figured it out.”

The Warriors’ offense has traditionally centered on ball movement, while finding open shots for Thompson and Curry. Paul has traditionally overseen offenses in pick-and-roll sets. Paul operated more off-the-ball and reduced ball-handling responsibilities during his final season in Phoenix, however, both to accommodate Kevin Durant and Devin Booker and to reduce his workload. The Warriors envision both Paul and his new teammates adapting to each other’s needs well because of their collective talent, basketball IQ and willingness to sacrifice. Regardless of his volume of playmaking duties, Paul has remained an efficient mid-range shooter and passer.

“It’s basketball. Obviously, I’ve done a lot of moving around and stuff like that,” Paul said. “I get that is in front of mind for everybody all day. But for me, I’m trying to live and enjoy my summer as much as possible. I’ll worry about all of that different type of stuff when it’s time.”

Instead, Paul focused more on what brought him back to a city that he considers home. Paul, Lakers center Mo Bamba, rapper Quavo and comedian Druski all assisted Fanatics’ efforts to package more than 300,000 pieces of memorabilia that will be delivered to 100,000 underserved youth and their families in nearly 100 different locations across the country. Fanatics valued the donated merchandise at about $20 million.

“I enjoy being with the people. This is part of it,” Paul said. “A lot of people show up and do these things. But for me, it’s about being with the people that appreciated it. That’s the whole point with being at these functions, and not necessarily talk about my trade to Golden State.”

Paul backed up those words with actions. He looked enthusiastic with folding and organizing the various apparel. He politely stood with fans for photos and granted autograph requests. He greeted each fan warmly and thanked them for their support.

“I was brought up like this. So I was at events all the time where people were giving back to us and our church. This is my normal,” said Paul, who grew up in Winston-Salem, NC. “I did it as a kid. All the people I see out here remind me of my family and my cousins and my aunts and uncles.”

All of which has marked a busy time for the 38-year-old Paul. He traveled to New York City partly to promote his newly released memoir, Sixty-One. As a former president of the National Basketball Players Association, Paul met with prospects before the NBA Draft and encouraged them both to “keep the main thing the main thing” and “don’t forget where you came from.” And he received clarity on his NBA future after being traded twice in less than a week.

“I’m so fortunate to have a support system around me,” Paul said. :A lot of people don’t like me; let me tell you. I’ve been in leadership positions where you have to make real decisions. Not everybody is going to like those decisions. But as long as you’re comfortable with who you are and your foundation, you can stand on that. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Paul plans to do the same thing with Golden State while still keeping a community connection to Los Angeles.

Mark Medina covers the Clippers & Lakers for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.