Houston, We Have Made a Questionable Move
The Rockets acquired Chris Paul from the Clippers and Harden will have to adjust
The latest Woj-bomb hit earlier today when The Vertical reported that Los Angeles Clippers star, Chris Paul was being traded to the Houston Rockets.
*collective gasp when the alert hit everyone’s phone and Twitter timeline*
In an effort to get something from nothing, the Clippers ended up receiving three players and a draft pick for a player who had already said he would opt out of his contract. With Chris Paul wanting a change of scenery, the Rockets, the Spurs, and others were ready to do whatever was necessary to sign the 32-year old point guard when free agency starts.
The obvious leader to many in the media were the San Antonio Spurs because they have the best coach in the league in Gregg Popovich and the best two-way player in the league in Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, Paul and whatever 3rd piece the Spurs wanted to add to those two sounded like the best case scenario. General Manager R.C. Buford would have been able to finagle the roster to add a star guard while keeping a good portion of the team together. Today, we found out though that the Spurs don’t have to make any such moves.
Houston Rockets’ star James Harden according to reports had been conversing with CP3 about the potential of teaming up in Houston once the negotiating period opens July 1st for all free agents. Talks between the star players apparently were serious discussions to figure out a way to get Paul in to the team while staying within the cap restrictions.
To make things easier and more fluid, Paul went to the Clippers and gave them the warning that he was destined for Houston when free agency started. This would allow the Clippers to try and work out a trade in order to get something in return for Chris Paul over nothing at all.
As a part of the trade negotiations, Chris Paul had to opt-in to the final year of his contract instead of opting out. With the money on the books, Paul was eligible to be traded to Houston. When the teams finally hashed out details, Paul would go to Houston while the Clippers would receive point guard Patrick Beverly, guard Lou Williams, forward Sam Dekker, and the Rockets 2018 first round pick (with a top-3 protection).
In short, Los Angeles gets four pieces in exchange for a player who was going to leave anyway. At least Chris Paul is giving the Clippers a going away present.
The Rockets now have their big-two that now require them to look for a star third piece. But, Houston, we have a move that makes zero basketball sense.
Mike D’Antoni’s system strives when there is one dominate, all-star point guard who has the ball in their hands most of the game. That guard is then given three or four shooters to spread the floor and from there the offense is elementary. This past season, the Rockets set a new record of most made three-point field goals in a season with 1,181. James Harden fit the D’Antoni-Nash role of a ball dominate guard who can easily get to the basket and score, dish it to shooters, or drill pull-up threes. Transitioning James Harden to point guard made Houston a top-three team in the Western Conference and made Harden a MVP candidate (ultimately finishing 2nd this year behind Russell Westbrook). James’ tenure in Houston was looking like a disappointment until this flashy fourteen-ish second offense came into play. There is probably no player in the league that fits the Houston scheme like James Harden.
Now, add another ball-dominate player in Chris Paul to Houston. The Rockets will now have to satisfy their offense by picking one player over the other to handle the ball — we have to assume it is CP3 because he would not have gone there otherwise. Paul will be able to distribute the ball at a similar or maybe even a better clip (presumably) than Harden despite James’ 11.2 assists per contest last year. Paul can make D’Antoni’s offense work because he fits the build of the point guard he needs (scorer and elite passer). Paul may not be the instinctive shooter that Harden is, but he can be effective enough to keep the Rocket offense afloat.
Here is where the issue lies, James Harden will have to transition back to playing a non-ball-dominate role for which he has played most of his career. Playing the off-guard position for the Rockets has led Harden to be more of a disappointment than a raging success. This past year, Harden’s most successful year, came when he was involved in every play as the point guard. He could run and initiate the offense and be in tune with the entire team at all times. Switching Harden to the primary off-guard (with some point being played, obviously) will create possessions where he can check out. It is obvious through his play last season that he is a more effective and efficient player when he is moving around and handling the ball rather than being relegated to solely a 3-point shooter.
Can Chris Paul and James Harden co-exist? There will always be a transition when adding another star player but in short, yes. I believe that Houston will want a third star to pair with these two guards and they could get it done this summer. We have not even gone over the contract extension part of this whole mess.
Since Chris Paul is being traded, he is now eligible for a five-year max extension with the Rockets instead of a four-year max if he were to sign with them as a free agent. That fifth year makes a difference in total contract value in this world of guaranteed NBA contracts. The questionable part of this deal is that the extension was not guaranteed at the time of the deal. This means that Chris Paul may not sign his extension now and could wait until next summer when this guy LeBron is a free agent. That is a story for a different day though, but it is worth keeping in the back of your mind in the next few months if CP3 does not sign the extension.
Chris Paul and James Harden wanted this move to happen. They will eventually work it out, I am sure of it. Stars love playing with stars because it makes their job easier. If I am Houston, I do not understand why I potentially move away from what got us to near the top of the Western Conference. The transition may be brutal (especially for Harden moving off the ball) but come March/April, we may just be ready to say this trade gave the Rockets a fighting chance against the Golden State Warriors.