Don’t look now, but Chris Paul is still balling– and he’s got the Thunder in playoff position

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By: Kels Dayton

CP3 isn’t going anywhere.

He’s not declining from his perch as one of the league’s best guards, he’s not giving up his perennial All-Star spot (much to Devin Booker’s dismay), and he’s not leaving would-be-rebuilding Oklahoma City any time soon.

The dude is here to stay.

Paul was supposed to fade into oblivion this season– cast adrift like Andre Iguodala on a Western Conference also-ran, doomed to a year of discontent and losing.

Yet here he is– averaging 17 and 7 a game, shooting 47.7 from the field (his highest mark since 2014-15) and knocking down threes at a 35.6% clip.

The 34-year-old has been chosen as an All-Star for the 10th time and first time since 2016, and he’s carried the Thunder to a surprising 31-20 record and the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising, given that he’s Chris Paul– but most prognosticators figured that the West was way too tough, and the Thunder were too young, to make anything happen. Most thought this would be a lost season for them and for Paul, and that the marriage wasn’t destined to last very long.

But here he is, here they are, and everything is looking up.

For everybody who thought OKC was essentially Paul, Steven Adams and a bunch of nobodies, ahem, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) would like a word.

This is a legitimately good team, and it’s almost a certainty now that they’ll be back playing on TNT and ESPN in the spring.

It could be this way for a few years.

Paul’s contract situation (he’s owed $38.5 million this season, $41.3 million next season and $44.2 million after that) makes him incredibly hard to trade, and he’s on the record as saying that he won’t opt out of his contract to help facilitate a move to a contender.

“No chance. That’s not happening. Nope,” he told Sports Illustrated.

So, this is probably going to be his home for a while.

Paul has put in the time, too, helping the Thunder’s young stars along and teaching them how to thrive in a winning environment.

“The guy came in in July for four days and spent time with the guys,” head coach Billy Donovan told The Undefeated. “He spent time with them and went to dinner with them. He has been unbelievable with our young guys. …

“The thing I admire about his professionalism is here is a guy at 34 years old who is in at 8:30 in the morning. He is taking care of his body, lifting and eating right. He still has a lot that he wants to do. He could be like, ‘I’m 34. I don’t have time for these young guys. I don’t have time for this.’ And he does it. He is a real relationship person, which for our team has been great.”

Gilgeous-Alexander calls him a “big brother,” and raved about the way he’s been able to teach the young players on the roster.

Hoop heads had already praised GM Sam Presti for bringing back an unprecedented haul of draft picks from the Rockets in the trade that landed Paul last summer, but the way this season has played out so far has to be considered a best-case scenario.

The future may have felt bleak when Westbrook was shipped out, after the franchise had already lost its G.O.A.T. in Kevin Durant, but it’s become clear that as long as Presti and Paul are around, the Thunder are going to keep right on winning.

And that may be for a while yet.

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