Because We Can't Shoot

Reactions to the Chris Paul Trade

By: Ben Steinmetz, Jordan Dant, and Matt Sawyer

In the midst of an active NBA offseason, Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets made arguably the boldest move. They acquired Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, and your “who’s-who” of fringe NBA players. Some are touting this trade as an advancement to put the Rocket’s in contention for the top spot in the West. However, others disagree and ponder if this move was imprudent as the Warriors continue to dominate the league. 

So, with the split opinion on this significant trade, Jordan and Ben offer their opinions on the question: Given the current state of the NBA, was this trade worth it?

Jordan:

The Rockets gave up a good amount of assets to ensure they got CP3 instead of risking another team being able to talk him out of the Houston scenario in free agency. It was a huge move, that carried both a decent amount of risk, and some big upside.

First let’s start with the risk. The Rockets have locked themselves into this edition (or a very similar edition) of their team for the foreseeable future, likely 3-5 years. They are going to be bogged down paying Harden and CP3, and they also have Capela headed for a pay day. 

Approximately 5 years from now they will likely be overpaying for all 3 of CP3, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, with few options to get out of their jam. This of course assumes they haven’t made any other deals by the time this is read.

I don’t think there should be any doubt that the Rockets improved their team with this move, probably even making themselves the primary Western Conference threat against the Warriors. In almost any other year that I have been watching basketball this would have put them up there as a clear title contender and there wouldn’t be much doubt that this move was a homerun.

However, thanks to that other team we mentioned earlier (the Warriors), this is no ordinary year, nor are the next few years to come. The Rockets mortgaged their future to win a title during the same window that the Warriors will be locked in as the best team in the league. At the very least, the Warriors look poised to keep this core together for the next 2 years until Klay’s due for another raise. That leaves the Rockets with maybe a year or 2 to have their core in their peak without the seemingly unbeatable Warriors to get through. Even if Klay finds a new team, there’s no way to know that the Warriors won’t find a way to stay at the top, or that a new team or two won’t have erupted to the top of the mountain by then.

Essentially what this will come down to then, is if you think mortgaging the future is worth what might be an unusually small increase at a chance for a title. I say it is. 

If we look back at the history of the NBA there are very few instances of an NBA team winning the title without what I will call a “truly elite” player. It’s probably reasonable to argue that at any time there is no more than between 5-10 of these players in the NBA. Currently this list is probably as short as Lebron, Curry, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, CP3 and Leonard (with a few more close but not quite there). If there are only 7 of these players in the NBA at any one time it’s extremely rare to ever have one of these players, let alone 2.

If the Rockets were to wait and try to build a super team after the Warriors have fizzled. It’s possible that Harden has walked in free agency and the team is in full rebuild again. Maybe Harden doesn’t leave but the Rockets nevertheless are not in a position to add a second truly elite player. There’s simply no guarantee on the future.

The Rockets have found themselves in an extremely rare position for any NBA team. They have found a way to put two of the truly elite NBA players on the same roster. Due to the extreme difficulty of getting one of these players, let alone 2, I think that the Rockets had to make this move. 

Even if it might take some insanely good luck for them, and bad luck for the Warriors, taking the shot when it comes around may be better than passing on it and never getting a second shot.

Ben:

If I’m Daryl Morey, this is not the trade that I would make. You know going into this trade that you’re going to pay Chris Paul that massive $205 million dollar contract until he’s 37 years old. I’m not trying to disparage Paul, who is still a top 8-10 NBA player and posted the highest true shooting percentage of his career last season and his two highest effective field goal percentages over the past three seasons. He’s still a tremendous playmaker and a great perimeter defender who has improved his shooting over the course of his decorated career. I just don’t think that it’s wise to give $200 million to a 33 year old point guard, especially when the Rockets as currently constructed are not a better team than the Warriors. A lineup of Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and either Ryan Anderson or Trevor Ariza will score a ton of points and be really exciting to watch, but that lineup still does not beat the Warriors.  

This trade also leaves Houston’s depth as a huge question mark, and by that I mean the depth is non-existent. According to Hoopshype, outside of the 6 players I already mentioned, Houston has Chinanu Onuaku, Tim Quarterman, and Isaiah Taylor on the roster who have a combined total of 182 minutes played in the NBA. The recent non-guaranteed contract additions Ryan Kelly and Shawn Long aren’t much better, and the only draft pick that the Rockets kept this season was the raw second round prospect Isaiah Hartenstein. Even with the thin roster the Rockets are right at the salary cap level, giving them only the mid-level exception to acquire help in the post or on the wing. It’s possible that the Rockets are planning to make another move to acquire Paul George (unlikely) or Carmelo Anthony (unexciting), but neither of those moves improves the depth situation that borders on irresponsible. Considering that Chris Paul has missed an average of 10 games per season over the past 6 seasons and Eric Gordon has only played more than 65 games in a season twice in his career (last season and his rookie year) it’s hard to believe that this Rockets team will be healthy enough to challenge the Dubs and Spurs come playoff time.  

Let’s look at the Rocket’s plans going forward. I consider it inevitable that they will extend Paul’s contract since Paul heads up the NBA Player’s Association and I would imagine he wouldn’t have orchestrated this trade unless he’s getting that $205 million over 5 years contract extension that he fought for. That would mean that for the 2018-19 season the Rockets would be over the cap after accounting for only Harden, Paul, Anderson and Gordon. In 2019-20, Harden can opt out of his deal and leave in unrestricted free agency or stick around and the Rockets would still be in the same cap situation as in 2018-19. In the meantime, the Warriors will likely keep their core of Curry-Durant-Green-Thompson together during the next two seasons and barring significant injuries that grouping should play in the NBA finals in both of those seasons. However, if the Rockets would have maintained cap flexibility and continued adding assets they could have positioned themselves to make a splashy trade like this one in two seasons when the Warriors will face paying roughly the GDP of Ukraine in luxury taxes and will most likely part ways with Klay Thompson and his expiring contract. Instead, the Rockets will be locked into Harden and 34 year old Chris Paul in the 2019-2020 season and won’t have the cap space for much else.  

I like the idea of Paul and Harden together and think this grouping will be exciting under Mike D’Antoni but I just don’t see how this trade gets Houston any closer to a title. When you have a player of Harden’s caliber, shouldn’t all of your moves be focused on taking the team from a 55 win team to a title contender?  

jdant19@gmail.com

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