CP3 on Spurs: Playing time trumped chasing ring

NBA

SAN ANTONIO — In the twilight of his career, Chris Paul could have opted to chase an elusive NBA championship. Instead, he chose to go to a team that went just 22-60 a season ago.

Why? He still wants to compete.

“I love nothing more than the opportunity to play and contribute and hoop,” Paul said at his introductory news conference on Tuesday.

Paul agreed to a one-year contract with the Spurs. He could have played closer to his home in the Los Angeles area but instead, he’ll leave his family and play for San Antonio.

“My family is everything. My wife is here, my kids are back in L.A., and that’s where they will be during the season,” Paul said. “And I love basketball so much that I could be close to home, but if I’m not playing, I’m not happy.

“And I love my family to death. So when we saw this opportunity, even though it’ll put me away from my family, my family knows me better than anybody and they know that I just want to play. I want to play more than anything. And that’s why I’m grateful for them and more so grateful to be here.”

Paul also gets to join forces with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for the first time in his career. He said it was “an honor and a privilege” to be able to play for Popovich at this stage of his career.

“Obviously, I’ve admired Pop from afar for years, and when you’re in this for a while, as he’s done for a long time, there’s so much respect there,” Paul said. “Not only for his basketball IQ, but just for who he is as a person, as a competitor and all of that.”

While discussing his illustrious 19-year career, all of which has happened in the Western Conference, Paul said he doesn’t think there’s a team he’s played more than the Spurs — and he’s correct. He has 81 combined playoff and regular-season games played against the Spurs in his career, the most he has against any team in the NBA.

Paul said the meeting he had with Popovich before agreeing to a contract with the Spurs was more a conversation rather than Popovich giving him a sales pitch.

Now, at age 39, Paul joins a team that was the league’s youngest last season and also features one of the game’s most exciting young players in reigning Rookie of the Year Victor Wembanyama.

Paul said he and Harrison Barnes, who was acquired in a three-way trade from Sacramento, were talking on their flight into San Antonio on Monday about how they can’t wait to watch Wembanyama grow on a day-to-day basis.

“I played against [Wembanyama] this season, and I tell you there’s probably no player in the league that everybody in the league talks about after the game like him,” Paul said. “Everybody has to adjust to stuff.”

Barnes signed a three-year, $54 million extension last summer with the Sacramento Kings, but with two years left on his deal, he was expendable as the team looked to acquire DeMar DeRozan.

As a part of his contract, Barnes had a 10% trade bonus that he waived in order to help facilitate the deal involving the Kings, Spurs and Chicago Bulls. On Tuesday, he explained why he turned down the extra cash, calling it “a pretty easy decision.”

“It’s funny, with the new CBA, the trade kicker became more of a play than I was expecting, but I think the opportunity just to come here and to be able play for Pop and play with this group I think is exciting,” Barnes said.

Barnes reunites with Popovich, who coached him in the 2019 FIBA World Cup with Team USA. Barnes says he remembered great team dinners under Popovich but also his ability to relate with everyone on the roster.

“He talks to every single player differently, and he knows how to connect with him,” Barnes said. “So I think that’s why me and him kind of hit it off. He’s a straight shooter. I like that.”

Both Barnes and Paul recognize the role they will have as the elder statesmen of the Spurs. Devonte Graham, who turned 29 in February, ended the season as the team’s oldest player a season ago.

Paul and Barnes, 32, now take that title and will try to lead the young team moving forward. But Paul is also excited for what he can learn as well.

“That’s probably been the coolest thing about my career is that, yeah, I’ve went to some teams that are younger or whatnot, but I’m constantly learning from these guys,” Paul said.

“I got a chance to play with [Shai Gilgeous-Alexander] in his second year in the league and I got a chance to learn from him. I got a chance to learn from [Devin Booker], Mikal Bridges and all those guys. So I’m excited to share with these guys what I know and whatever they want to know, but I’m also excited to see what I can learn from them.”

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