By Ben Golliver
Chris Paul has carefully crafted an everyman image, even starring in a sneaker commercial with dozens of body doubles to underscore the idea that, at 6-foot-nothing and 175 pounds, he's not all that different from his millions of fans. Whether you buy in to the Paul brand or not, there's at least one way the All-Star point guard is like the rest of us: he reportedly got tired of waiting for Dwight Howard to make up his mind about his future.
Yahoo! Sports reports that Paul and Howard, both members of the 2008 Olympics gold medal-winning USA Basketball team, had discussed teaming up in the NBA since 2009. According to the report, they had eyed Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks as a possible destination for joining forces after Howard failed to recruit Paul to the Magic and Paul failed to recruit Howard to the Hornets.
"I tried to get him to come to New Orleans," Paul told Yahoo! Sports. "It was back and forth, here and there."
Sources close to both players said Howard and Paul settled on the Dallas Mavericks as an ideal destination, knowing owner Mark Cuban had the means to clear salary-cap space for them. The Mavericks explored trades for both players, but didn't have attractive enough assets to make a deal. And while Howard and Paul could have become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2012 by opting out of their contracts, neither exhibited the patience to make such a plan feasible.
Paul was all in for joining the Mavericks as a free agent in 2012, but he wanted a commitment Howard also had interest, sources said. Howard, however, remained indecisive about his future in Orlando and wasn't ready to commit to Paul. Frustrated, Paul eventually grew tired of waiting on Howard, gave up on the Dallas plan and asked the Hornets for a trade.
"We always wanted to play together," Howard said of Paul. "It didn't happen that way."
Paul, regarded as the league's best all-around point guard, and Howard, clearly the league's best center, would have been an ideal pairing. They are a perfect career arc match: Paul is 27 and Howard will turn 27 in December. Both can score, both play defense and the pick-and-roll possibilities would have been endless. Paul's intensity balances Howard's goofiness. Paul's late-game moxie makes up for Howard's free-throw ills. The hulky Howard's elite rebounding would ensure a Paul-led backcourt could go undersized without being exposed on the boards. Surround the duo with three shooters -- including at least one who is a plus defender -- and you're looking at a team that is virtually assured of making the conference finals in either the West or East, with a ceiling that wouldn't stop there.
The discussion of the league's top duo would have gotten interesting had Paul and Howard found a way to make it work. They would have charged into that conversation alongside the Heat's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and the Thunder's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The pair already boasts 11 All-Star appearances and seven All-NBA First-Team selections and there's no end in sight to the tabulation of their individual achievements.
Unfortunately, our best chance to see them play together now will be in Houston, as likely West starters for the West at the 2013 All-Star Game. When Kevin Hart is losing his mind in a courtside seat and the basket is still shaking after a Paul-to-Howard alley-oop slam, just remember that could have been happening 82 times a year, for roughly the next half-decade. We'll never know why Howard couldn't have been more decisive in finding a way to make it work.