Chris Paul primed to be more than a mentor to young Suns, chose Phoenix ‘to hoop’

Another season, another fresh start for point guard Chris Paul. And another young team to take under his wing.

But as he was formally introduced by the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, the 15-year veteran made sure to point out he isn’t looking at his job to just be a mentor.

“Everyone always talks about what I can teach [Devin Booker] or teach some of these other guys, but they’re teaching me at the same time too,” Paul said. “I’m not James Naismith by no means. First things first, I’m not just coming in here trying to teach everybody. I’m his teammate. We’re here to hoop, we’re here to compete and that’s how I approach this.”

Paul’s leadership qualities are well documented and played a critical factor last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder as he shepherded a young roster to the fifth seed in the Western Conference. The Suns view Paul’s arrival presenting a similar type of opportunity, lifting them both on the floor and off it.

“We added a first-ballot Hall of Fame point guard to our team,” coach Monty Williams said. “Obviously, that comes with a bit of sacrifice, but we felt like it was one that was more than worth the risk, and we felt like there wasn’t much negative risk.

“We still feel like it’s going to improve our team. That’s no disrespect to Ricky [Rubio] or Kelly [Oubre], but Chris is Chris. He’s one of the best players in the history of the game, especially at his position. He may be the best point guard of his era.”

Paul produced a resurgent 2019-20 season, making an All-NBA team (second team) and All-Star team for the first time since 2016. He led the NBA in clutch-time scoring, taking over games late in crucial situations as the Thunder became one of the best closing teams in the league.

The Suns were the darling of the bubble last summer, going 8-0 in the seeding games and nearly playing into an improbable postseason appearance. Paul took notice of how together the Suns were and the potential in their roster.

“It’s a really good team. Everyone says a young team or whatnot, but when you’re a fan of the game, you see different pieces,” Paul said.

In part because of the existing star power in place with Booker, the Suns were a preferred destination for Paul when it became clear there was a possibility of him being made available by the Thunder.

“I’ve known Book for a long time, and he’s not only talented, he’s a dog. He’s really competitive. I know Book, and when we hoop and play against each other, we be about to fight,” Paul said with a grin. “And then looking at the staff, Monty is an unbelievable person, aside from being a great coach. It was a lot of things here.”

Paul spent one season playing for Williams in New Orleans a decade ago, with both looking back on that time fondly and hope it helps them hit the ground running this season. Williams reflected on Tuesday that a lot of lessons were learned from their previous stint together.

“I think that we both have grown a lot,” he said. “I think we both were really headstrong, too, back then. I was walking around like a dictator ready to cut somebody’s head off, trying to implement my way and my program. I don’t think I was really good at allowing him to do what the great ones do. There were times I felt like I took the paintbrush out of his hand.”

Paul’s leadership style can often be perceived as demanding, but it is a critical part of his impact — and something the Suns were looking to add to their young group.

“One thing about my approach, and I’m not saying it’s always right, and it’s not for everybody, but I never ask you to do something I wouldn’t do myself,” Paul said. “I had a coach when I was in Houston, he used to tell me the biggest thing I’d have to battle with is sometimes having guys that don’t care as much as I do. But I guarantee you, whatever you see is coming from a good place.”

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