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So far, Clippers' Chris Paul is the NBA's most valuable player

Guard is not the league's most talented player or its best shooter, but he is the catalyst of an amazing turnabout by a franchise that has never been much except a doormat.

T.J. Simers

11:00 PM PST, January 21, 2013

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It would be surprising if the chant in Staples Center isn't loud and persistent by now.

And he's going to need it, limping as he was during Monday afternoon's loss at Golden State.

But if sports is all about winning and the pursuit of excellence, who has done it better this season?

"CP3, CP3, CP3."

"MVP, MVP, MVP."

LeBron James is the most talented player in the NBA.

Kevin Durant is the best shooter.

And Kobe Bryant's brilliant play defies explanation after so many trips up and down the court.

But Chris Paul is this season's most valuable player.

So far.

And I add "so far" only because Paul would insist on it.

As it is, if there is an award for turning a horrible, rotten, no-hope franchise around, it should be named after Paul.

He has done something most thought unthinkable, turning the Clippers into an NBA powerhouse.

The two best teams in the West meet Tuesday night in Los Angeles, another wacky turnaround when considering one of the teams is the Clippers and the other is not the Lakers.

It might also be the most exciting matchup the NBA can offer this season, with Lob City and Oklahoma City swapping athletic highlights.

It will also be Chris Paul bobblehead night, a reminder to everyone in attendance that the smallest guy on the court is capable of pulling off the biggest of miracles.

Unfortunately, Paul is playing on one healthy knee, hopping from here to there as he tried to stay on the court with Golden State.

But it was obvious he could not shoot, could not defend as he has done all season, and Russell Westbrook won't be very sympathetic.

Will the Clippers even have him for the Thunder?

They won on the road last week with him resting, in part because his teammates now play with the intensity that he instilled in the Clippers when he arrived.

It has always been about the next play for Paul, traded to the Lakers and then just as quickly shifted to the Clippers without a word of complaint.

He plays the game the same way. He makes a mistake, pats his chest to let everyone know it is on him and then finds another way to win.

And he never stops yapping at his teammates, the referees, the opposition and reporters if they doubt his ability to compete and triumph.

Whatever he has, it's contagious; everyone is better because of him. How many players can do that?

As of yet there hasn't been a hint of unrest or selfishness on a team overloaded with talent and only so many minutes available.

Name a Laker who hasn't complained this season.

In a game so often measured by statistics and playing time needed to roll up big numbers, Paul is playing an average of three minutes per game less than his career mark.

He has done so to allow Eric Bledsoe to develop.

Much like Kobe, Paul is the facilitator early and the closer when needed. Unlike Kobe, Paul's team will probably enjoy the home-court edge for the first round of the playoffs.

Five years ago, Paul averaged 21.1 points and four rebounds, while leading the league with 11.6 assists and 2.71 steals per contest.

He finished second in MVP voting to Kobe. This season he probably trails Durant and maybe James in popularity because of their championship exposure last season.

But as campaigns go, Paul is just beginning.

He has already changed the Clippers' culture; the team hired former New Orleans executive Gerald Madkins and former New Orleans PR assistant Dennis Rogers to help persuade Paul to stay after the season.

The team also hired from within, promoting Gary Sacks to general manager, knowing he already has a good relationship with Paul.

Coach Vinny Del Negro is in the final year of his deal with the team, the Clippers waiting to see if the coaching situation will affect Paul's decision to return.

Paul means that much to the Clippers; no reason to argue after a history of losing before his arrival dramatically changed everything.

Yet, just imagine how good CP3 would be if he listened to Page 2 and did as instructed.

"Shoot more, and earlier in the game," he has been told, repeatedly.

But he only smiles, while mentioning the NBA standings. The rare superstar who doesn't bite back.

It's something else that sets him apart. As feisty as he is on the court, he's just as easygoing off and as approachable as any fan would want.

Put it all together, at a time of the season when the Clippers usually have 10 wins rather than only 10 losses, and he's the most valuable player this franchise has ever known.

And now if the "CP3" or "MVP" chants get louder, maybe basketball fans everywhere else will also take notice.

t.j.simers@latimes.com