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Carlson: Why no player not named Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant had a bigger impact on OKC than Chris Paul

Oklahoma City traded point guard Chris Paul to the Phoenx Suns on Monday for several players and a No. 1 draft pick. [AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File]
Oklahoma City traded point guard Chris Paul to the Phoenx Suns on Monday for several players and a No. 1 draft pick. [AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File]

When they start putting up statues to honor Oklahoma City’s basketball legends, Chris Paul won’t be at the top of the list.

Truth be told, he may never be so memorialized.

He only played in the city for three seasons, after all, two with the displaced Hornets and one with the beloved Thunder. He played his prime seasons in other cities for other teams, coming here first at the dawn of his career, then near the sunset of it. He didn’t win a playoff series here, much less a championship.

But on the day he was traded to the Suns, following Dennis Schroder’s trade to the Lakers over the weekend and signaling the Thunder's rebuild is in full swing, we need to take a minute and appreciate what CP3 has meant to basketball in OKC.

No player, save Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, had a bigger impact than Chris Paul.

“He started this whole thing for us in 2005 and then returned 15 years later to give us one more very special season,” Oklahoma City mayor and noted Thunder fan David Holt said Monday afternoon on Twitter.

“Chris Paul should always be remembered as one of OKC’s greats.”

Oklahoma City might not have professional basketball today if not for Chris Paul, and it definitely wouldn’t have as bright a future if not for the Point God.

When Paul first arrived in our fair city, he was an NBA rookie. A newbie. It was a perfect match; Oklahoma City was a newbie to the NBA as well.

The Hornets, you’ll remember, were forced out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and took refuge in OKC in September 2005. Paul was their fresh-faced rookie point guard, only a few months removed from college stardom at Wake Forest, and he immediately won over fans.

His personality was part of it. He lived in a rental house with his older brother. He picked up teammate J.R. Smith every morning to make sure he got to practice on time. Paul was like the kid next door, signing every autograph, posing for every photo and smiling all the while.

Then, of course, on the court, he tried to rip out opponents’ hearts.

Fans loved that, too. Paul turned a team largely composed of role players — anyone remember Speedy Claxton or P.J. Brown, Kirk Snyder or Aaron Williams? — into a playoff contender. That turned OKC from a place that was juiced about seeing the Celtics or the Lakers or the Heat into a city excited about cheering for its own team.

The arena was always packed, the city ever buzzing.

That turned heads at NBA headquarters.

“Oklahoma City has continually demonstrated to the world that it is a major-league city in all respects,” then NBA commissioner David Stern said during the 2005-06 season. “We have developed a real affinity for that place.”

Would that have happened without Chris Paul?


But he sure made the love affair take hold quickly, and only a year after Paul and the Hornets returned to New Orleans, the Thunder came to Oklahoma City.

For the next decade or so, we didn’t give much thought to CP, unless he was bringing his team to town. That’s because we had the likes of Durant and Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden to fill our days.

And our days were good.

Then, of course, came the nearly inevitable downturn. It happens to every NBA team not named the Spurs, and who was there to help?

Our old(er) friend, Chris Paul.

He came back to town in the trade with Houston for Westbrook, of course, and at first, some Thunder fans were more excited about the draft picks that came along with him. Only a handful of us actually thought Paul would ever wear a Thunder uniform.

Turns out, he didn’t just wear it. He had one of the best seasons of his career, becoming an All-Star, leading the Thunder to the playoffs and taking it within seconds of knocking off his old Rocket teammates. He gave OKC a great year, a fun season, an unexpected treat.

But it turns out, he gave so much more.

The Thunder has even more supplies for its rebuild because of Paul. A year ago, the Rockets struggled to find teams willing to take Paul in a trade, but because he had a vintage season with the Thunder, we heard of all sorts of suitors calling these past few weeks. Knicks. Sixers. Bucks. Clippers.

Monday, the Thunder struck a deal with the Suns, getting four players and one first-round draft pick in exchange for Paul and Abdel Nader. That means OKC now has even more pieces for its rebuild. Some of those players, along with Danny Green, acquired in the Schroder trade, will be packaged for other assets.

All in the name of getting as many lottery picks as high in the next several drafts and building a new young core that can spark the next great era of Thunder basketball.

We are closer to that day now because of Paul, because of the assets he allowed the Thunder to acquire from the Suns, because of the lessons he taught the young stars who are already here and sure, you could even say because of the way he elevated guys like Schroder and Danilo Gallinari and others who may well be flipped into future assets, too.

CP3 is the gift that keeps on giving.

He helped build OKC into an NBA city once upon a time, and now, he’s shortening the renovation time on the rebuild.

We may not build a statue or even hang a banner for Chris Paul, but we should forever remember the impact by CP3 in OKC.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at or follow her at

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›