Among the pillars of the agreement that ended the NBA's five-month lockout in December were provisions to promote competitive balance and to end the practice of large-market teams pirating stars from smaller-market clubs. Those principles were tested immediately when, on the very day the contract was to be ratified, irate owners badgered Commissioner David Stern to void the proposed trade of Chris Paul from the league-owned Hornets to the powerful Lakers.
Though Stern's bizarre decision - citing "basketball reasons" - to strike down the deal caused an uproar, we just saw evidence for Stern's edict: Can you imagine Paul in the same backcourt with Kobe Bryant? That sure isn't competitive balance.
Paul instead was shipped to the Lakers' co-tenant at Staples Center. And the Clippers are now facing the top-seeded Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, largely due to their point guard's sterling season. It's hard to quarrel that Paul was not the impetus behind the Clippers finishing 14 games above .500 and just one game back of the Lakers in the Pacific Division. Paul averaged 2.53 steals per game, leading the NBA by a wide margin. He was third in the league with 9.1 assists per game, finished 17th with a scoring average of 19.8 and shot 87.1 percent from the line. And when it comes to immeasurables like relentlessness and tenacity, no franchise would pass up the chance to add Paul.
The difference Paul made was so obvious and immediate that the Clippers made the playoffs for only the second time in 15 years and won just the third playoff series in the 42-year history of the franchise. But even so, other players - even other guards - arguably did more to rescue a franchise. The Suns had not finished above third in the division for nine years before Steve Nash arrived in 2004, and they immediately made the Western Conference finals the next two seasons as Nash led the league in assists. The Nets went 26-56 in 2001 but then added Jason Kidd, and they made the NBA Finals the next two years to begin a six-year run in the postseason. When Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson arrived in Milwaukee in 1970, he lifted the Bucks to the NBA championship in only their third year of existence.
So all praise to Chris Paul and the amazing Clippers. But he is just one of many who can make strong cases for consideration as the NBA's Franchise Saviors. Keep in mind our list of players didn't arrive as draft picks or part of draft-day trades, but were acquired through trades or free agency.