By: Drew King (@drewking0222)
Houston threw the league into complete chaos Wednesday when they agreed to a one-year rental of nine-time all-star Chris Paul.
Paul, who looked to be one of the top free agents this summer, opted in to the final year of his deal that will pay him just over $24 million. Here’s how the trade went down, as first reported by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Houston gets: Chris Paul
Los Angeles gets: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, Darrun Hilliard and Houston’s 2018 first round pick (top-three protected).
It’s a controversial trade any way you split it, and not just because of the obvious tampering that was involved (not necessarily by Houston’s front office, just tampering in general). Consider the following conversation I had with my father, moments after the trade was announced:
I have no clue who taught him how to use hashtags, but he brings up some pretty good points. Bringing in Paul doesn’t put the Rockets past the Warriors, especially when he’s #pasthisprime@32.
But Houston had to strike while the iron was hot. They couldn’t risk Paul taking a meeting with San Antonio while they struggled to clear enough cap space for him. Players of Paul’s status aren’t available very often (though this offseason would have you think otherwise).
Breaking Down The Trade
The biggest issue with bringing in Paul (or any other superstar, really) is that he and James Harden, both ball-dominant guards, now have to share. Harden finished seventh last season in usage rating at 34.1 percent. Paul wasn’t quite as sticky, but he still had an above-average 24.3 percent rating.
Harden might give up a couple possessions, but he just came off his best season in which he finished second in MVP voting. While his usage rating was sky-high, he was extremely efficient with his touches, posting a PER or 27.43. Asking him to give up the ball a lot more would require some major tinkering to Mike D’Antoni’s system.
The pressure falls on Paul to be more passive which, ironically, is exactly what he faced criticism for in Los Angeles. However, the possibility of having him play off the ball might not be all that bad. Marc J. Spears reported that Paul actually found the chance to share point guard duties with Harden attractive, and it was a major factor in choosing the Rockets over the Spurs.
The Rockets have a chance to be even more lethal on offense than last year if Paul and Harden can find a balance, and that’s a scary thought. Paul also might be the only point guard in the league who is better on defense than Beverley, and bringing him in equips them with another pick-and-roll mastermind.
As for what Houston lost, none of the players were back breakers. Paul is a clear upgrade over Beverley, the Williams-Eric Gordon tandem was redundant and Dekker and Harrell combined for a grand total of 51 minutes in the playoffs.
Who the Rockets bring in will be much more important than who they lost. They’re still attempting to pry Carmelo Anthony or Paul George from their respective teams, according to Tim MacMahon.
It’s tough to see Houston trading for either of those guys after everything they gave up in the Paul trade, but it’s not impossible considering all the salary cap scrubs they’ve been buying (Tim Quarterman, Ryan Kelly, etc.). Anthony could even be a legitimate option if he gets bought out, although that’s looking less likely with Phil Jackson out of the picture in New York.
The Rockets also have the full mid-level exception ($8.4M), the bi-annual exception ($3.2M) and a trade exception, per Adrian Wojnarowski. Translated to English, it means they still have money to sign free agents.
If Houston manages to nab another 3-and-D wing and a little more frontcourt depth, there’s no reason the Rockets couldn’t be second best team in the West next season.
Los Angeles Clippers
Unfortunately it is, Chandler.
While the loss of Paul is a huge blow to the Clippers, they actually lucked out with their return.
By Paul being forthcoming with his intentions, Los Angeles was able to bring in a massive, albeit underwhelming haul. The Pacers may have been able to get something similar for Paul George had he never mentioned the Lakers.
Beverley might struggle leading at point, but the 1st Team All-Defensive guard could be relegated to the second unit to play with Jamal Crawford and sixth man candidate Lou Williams. Of course, that would leave Austin Rivers as their starting point guard (good luck with that).
Dekker could potentially be the wing that the Clippers have been searching for since they traded for Paul back in 2011. His athleticism isn’t easy to find, and he showed flashes last season that he could be a legitimate shooter in this league.
Harrell is a project, especially with his lack of size at the position. But if he develops, he’d be a good energy guy off the bench and could end up replacing the more expensive Mo Speights.
The 2018 first-round pick was nice, especially since Los Angeles owes a few of their own picks to other teams in the next couple drafts.
And while the combination of Liggins, Wiltjer, and Hilliard may seem like nothing…okay they’re nothing.
BUT all of their contracts are non-guaranteed, either this year or next. This is the genius of Jerry West, who Ramona Shelburne reported was not a fan of the “bring everyone back” plan. The Clippers can waive whomever they please and be set up with a mountain of cap space in 2018.
Bringing back Blake Griffin becomes the primary focus for this summer, and finding him a new cast for next year is crucial.
Not too shabby considering they could’ve gotten nothing for Paul.
Depending on who they surround Harden and Paul with, the Rockets are a serious threat to win upwards of 60 games this season, especially if they get Anthony or George.
If the Clippers can keep Griffin, they should still be able to make the playoffs, though it would be as one of the lower seeds in the conference. If Griffin leaves, expect them to tank for a year and rebuild around a lottery pick.
Also, FREE AGENCY IS STILL THREE DAYS AWAY.