Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/4/13
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. The Clippers ability to repeat this seasons success and avoid the awful stumble that took place in their first-round playoff loss will turn on the decision of one player. Chris Paul. No surprise there, right? The 118-105 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night remained a hot topic on Saturday as players cleaned out their lockers and did their exit interviews. But moving forward wont begin until theres a sense whether Paul plans to re-sign or will test the waters as an unrestricted free agent. Im going to let him make his decision, teammate Caron Butler said. But I dont think theres another place hed be more happy than the Clippers. Even if thats true, there was no consolation after the Clippers 4-2 series loss to the Grizzlies, a defeat that brought their banner season to a sudden halt. The Clippers set a franchise record with 56 regular-season wins and their first Pacific Division title, but they were out-played and out-hustled by a Memphis team that recovered from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series. This is unreal, Paul said glumly. We only played two weeks longer that everybody else who didnt make the playoffs. It sucks, it stings. Were still supposed to be playing. Their disappointment comes because of failed expectations. The Clippers were among the favorites to advance far in the Western Conference playoffs after going on a team-record 17-game winning streak and starting 32-9. But they needed a late-season surge to claim the No. 4 seed and were crushed by a Grizzlies team that was tougher and more aggressive. I dont care what kind of streak you go on, Paul said. It has nothing to do with the playoffs. December and May dont go together at all. The Clippers couldnt match the rugged interior play of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who controlled the boards and made too many easy baskets. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was a non-factor in the series after a regular season was that largely forgettable. Griffin tried to play with a high right ankle sprain but was limited to 13 minutes. Forward Matt Barnes, another potential free agent after completing his best season in the NBA, acknowledged the need for the Clippers to get tougher. I definitely think that, he said. That was exploited this series. Its a learning experience, but I think weve got to do a better job as a team. As a team, weve got to be tougher. The organization realizes it will have to fill that need in order to persuade Paul to return for five years and 107.3 million, more than he could get anywhere else. But hes going to take his time, consult with his family and look at his options. Im going to pray about it, he said of his future. Everybody knows my family is always around. My mom and dad are at my house right now. Im going to keep my tight group that I always have with me. As for the L.A. lifestyle, Paul, who is from North Carolina, said he and his family adjusted well. Did I like it? Yeah, I liked it, he said. I loved it out here. Paul has already felt the push from some teammates, who understand that losing him would be a significant step backward after major gains the past two seasons. Hes a huge piece to our team moving forward, Griffin said. Hes going to know we want him back and would love for him to re-sign and keep moving forward with this franchise. But ultimately, its his decision. He has to do whats right for him, whats right for his family, but obviously were behind him. With a tight-knit group of teammates, Paul may choose to re-up if he believes the Clippers are continuing to evolve. That might include bringing in a new coach, but Paul said he enjoyed playing under Vinny Del Negro. In the end, the decision will be Pauls alone. But hes going to know how his teammates feel about it. I think hes found a good home here and a good situation, forward Grant Hill said. I know he likes it here. And he looks good in red, white and blue.
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