T.J. SIMERS

If Chris Paul stays, Clippers may go far

The Clippers have become exciting to watch and they're relevant. It's a strong, deep team, but Paul hasn't yet committed to staying beyond this season.

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The world as Lakers fans know it ending because their heroes apparently will need time to adjust, I thought I would check with someone who went through the same thing a year ago.

But what a difference in producing instant pizzazz, Chris Paul doing the impossible and suddenly making the Clippers relevant.

"I didn't," he says. "We did."

Whatever, I'm still breathless from Wednesday night's season opener, which offered a stirring playoff atmosphere, the Clippers rocking Memphis and Staples Center with a 101-92 victory.

What a night!

And it all starts with Paul, who accepted his assignment to play for the Clippers last season, after almost being a Laker, with a smile and a nod to Blake Griffin that anything was possible.

And almost immediately the way the Clippers had played basketball for depressing decade after decade — changed.

With Paul as the acknowledged leader, the Clippers overcame the devastating Achilles' injury to Chauncey Billups and went on to win a Game 7 in the playoffs on the road in Memphis.

It was a gritty miracle in Memphis — unless you really do believe Paul and anything is possible.

So what happens next? Griffin signs a five-year contract extension to stay with the Clippers.

"I knew he would," says Paul.

But what about Paul, who will be a free agent at the end of the season? Does he already know where he will be next year?

"No," he says, and when pressed on whether he's really telling the truth, he says he is.

Whatever it takes seems to be the Clippers' motto so far in convincing to Paul to remain. And what's wrong with that sentence other than that it's never happened before?

The Clippers gave Griffin what he wanted, embraced the return of Billups, who is Paul's role model, and assembled maybe the best bench in the conference. They promoted Gary Sacks to GM because of Paul's fondness for him, and they will wait to determine Vinny Del Negro's future once they know he's the coach to get the most out of Paul.

"It's not to make me happy," Paul protests. "It's to run a first-class organization here. And that's what we've got right now.

"You go back to last year, and I didn't know when I came here but I hoped for the best. But it's unbelievable, and better than what I ever imagined."

So what more does Paul need to know before deciding whether he will sign a long-term deal with the Clippers?

"That's a good question," says Paul. "I'll see how this year goes, and so far everything has gotten off to a good start.

"But it's not a decision that will just affect me; I've got a wife."

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