Woah. Of all the madness this NBA offseason has brought, Thursday night’s barely-comprehensible news that Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul would be trading places on the Rockets and Thunder next season is probably the most batsh!t insane thing we’ve seen yet.
The finer details of the trade itself seem almost superfluous, but they are as follows:
OKC receive: Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2021 and 2025
Houston receive: Russell Westbrook
The two teams will also undertake pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.
The practical implications of the move are mind-boggling. Let’s try and break it down.
Chris Paul May Never Win a Ring
Chris Paul was in Houston for one reason; rings. The Rockets have come so close over the last two seasons but have been unable to clear the enormous, Warriors shaped hurdle that has inexorably greeted them in the Playoffs.
CP3 turned 34 in May of this year, meaning he will be 35 by the end of next season. He’s been in the league for 14 seasons and played over 33,000 minutes – ranking him 103rd all time (just ahead of Magic Johnson).
His injury struggles have been well documented. In recent seasons we’ve seen him afflicted with multiple hamstring injuries; never a good sign for a player entering the twilight of his career.
OKC is clearly at the exact opposite end of the spectrum to where Paul wants to be in terms of competitiveness. The intriguing thing from both his and the Thunder’s point of view is what he might be worth on the open market to a team in contention.
The team that immediately springs to mind is the Miami Heat. The Heat were up to their eyeballs in the chase for Westbrook, but it looks like the Rockets were able to trump them with the inclusion of future picks in the deal (bearing in mind the Heat have already given up a large swathe of their future first-rounders).
If the Thunder were to posit a deal involving, say, Justise Winslow and two expiring contracts – let’s say Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard – plus a future pick or two that may be enough for the Heat to want to take Paul off their hands.
How on Earth Will Russ and Harden Co-Exist?
This question is literally unanswerable.
The two perennial All-Star point guards (note the issue arising already) are the two highest-usage players in the NBA, per ESPN Stats & Info.
They’re also responsible for more turnovers than almost anyone in the history of the league.
Per Basketball Reference, Harden and Westbrook own the top 5 positions in the “Most Turnovers in a Season” bracket. Hardly a desirable place to be.
Of course, we’ve already seen the two superstars on the same team before, albeit in an OKC uniform. Unfortunately though given Harden was mostly coming off the bench (and in fact won 6th Man of the Year in OKC), we don’t really have much idea how this particular iteration is going to play out. It’s hard to see either player being comfortable with taking a back seat on offense. Let’s not even get started on what carnage might ensure on defense.
On-court fit is one thing; off-court is another. Both Harden and Westbrook have notoriously had their difficulties meshing with other stars; the CP3 + Harden combo ended poorly, and suffice it to say that Paul George wasn’t the first superstar player to flee OKC for greener pastures.
Whatever happens though, it’s going to be fun.
So Who Won the Trade?
At face value the winner of a straight Paul for Westbrook trade is obvious.
Paul is older, more injury prone, on a worse contract and is by this stage in his career undoubtedly a lesser player than the 29-year-old Westbrook. But the picks and pick swaps is what makes this intriguing.
The Rockets are an ageing roster; Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and now Westbrook are undoubtedly now reaching the back-end of their primes, and aside from future picks (of which they now own two less) Houston and GM Daryl Morey don’t have a whole heap of assets to work with.
By 2021 it’s not too far of a stretch to see this team beginning to struggle, with Harden almost 32 years of age of that point. By 2025 it’s not inconceivable that Houston might be a lottery team, which makes that 2025 pick and the two pick swaps potentially invaluable.
If OKC GM Sam Presti (pictured above) can find a way to flip Paul to a contender for even more draft capital and maybe a good young player or two (Justise Winslow immediately springs to mind) then the Thunder will have done incredibly well out of this trade.
Conversely, if the Rockets can win (or even contend for) a championship, they will consider themselves the winners of the trade. And rightly so. Westbrook is (for all his flaws) still a bona fide superstar, and Morey has been on record many, many times with his penchant for superstars, whatever their value.
It’s too early to call a winner, but just quietly we love what Presti is building in OKC. They are going to be formidable in the future.
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