Chris Paul loved Los Angeles.
He loved the city. He loved the fit for his family. He loved the off-court opportunities that are always more plentiful for elite athletes in Tinsel Town. He loved the idea of that five-year, $210 million contract that only the Clippers could provide this summer.
As the nine-time All-Star point guard approached free agency the past few months, that was the story told and re-told about the 32-year-old star who most believed would stay. But as the NBA world learned in stunning fashion on Wednesday, when he opted into the final year of his contract and orchestrated a trade that unites him with James Harden and his Houston Rockets, there was one thing missing from that equation.
Chris Paul didn’t love his team. Not enough, anyways.
When the time came for Paul to make up his mind, to forget all the non-basketball factors and figure out how he could bridge that gap between himself and the Golden State Warriors super team that looks primed to dominate for so many years to come, Paul sent a simple message to those people around him. He wanted to wake up in the morning with a genuine belief that he could win a title.
The result? Houston, you have (another) Point God.
Time will tell if the Harden-Paul pairing works as they hope, but this notion of two of the league’s best playmakers playing for one of the best point guard coaches in the history of the game in Mike D’Antoni is enough to make Magic Johnson jealous. The Rockets aren’t done yet, either. General manager Daryl Morey plowed through the Paul trade like a front office rock star and kept working every angle to try to add another star to his roster.
“James Harden is the key,” Morey told reporters. “His unselfishness, his ability to make other players better and now ... I think we have the two best playmakers in the entire league on one team.”
And Paul, who could still land that massive contract from the Rockets next summer because Houston inherits his Bird Rights, made it clear that the basketball mattered to him above all the rest.
“To the Los Angeles community and to CLIPPER NATION I say THANK YOU!!!!” Paul wrote on his various social media platforms. “For the past six years you have all welcomed not only me but my family. We love all of you.”
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Paul shared his decision with the Clippers on Tuesday during a 90-minute meeting. He had spoken extensively with his brother, C.J., to other family members, his closest friends and his agent, Leon Rose of CAA.
It’s clear he reached the conclusion that this Clippers core wasn’t good enough, that the looming departure of free-agent-to-be J.J. Redick and their inability to land his good friend and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony via trade were signs their ceiling had been reached. Add in the uncertain future of All-Star forward Blake Griffin, also a free agent, and there was more than enough to fuel the doubt in Paul’s mind.
All the while, the Rockets kept coming.
As Morey acknowledged in a Wednesday news conference, Harden was key in the Paul pursuit. The two played together on the USA squad that won gold at the London Olympics, with D’Antoni an assistant. And for all the well-deserved praise Harden received for his play last season after D’Antoni moved him from shooting guard to point guard, the prospect of receiving Hall of Fame caliber help appealed to Harden. There were other Rockets voices in Paul’s ear, too, with former New Orleans teammates Trevor Ariza and Bobby Brown known to be active in the chase.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Sam Amick on Twitter @Sam_Amick.