Chris Paul is heading to Houston to join James Harden, giving the Rockets two All-Stars in the backcourt to lead their chase for a championship.
In the NBA’s second blockbuster trade in less than a week, the Rockets acquired Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a protected first-round pick next year and cash considerations. The Rockets acquired Hilliard from Detroit and Liggins from Dallas for cash considerations before adding them to the deal.
“It’s a weapons race in the NBA and you’re either in the weapons race or on the sidelines,” Houston general manager Daryl Morey said. “We felt like with James Harden in his prime and Chris Paul in his prime this gives us a real shot to chase the juggernaut teams that are out there. This puts us right there with them.”
Both the Clippers and Houston will look far different next season than they did in again falling short in the playoffs. The roster overhauls came five days after Minnesota sent three players to Chicago for All-Star Jimmy Butler to kick things off with NBA free agency opening Saturday.
The 32-year-old Paul will be playing for his third team after opting in for the last year of his contract so the Clippers could work on a deal.
Morey wanted to get this deal done early so Paul could help Harden woo free agents to Houston.
“Now that we have James and Chris I think people are going to look in free agency and say: `Hey I can make this money there but maybe for close to the money but not quite as much I’m going to come to Houston and try to win a ring,”‘ he said. “So that’s a big difference walking in with that kind of a situation.”
Paul is a nine-time All-Star who has averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals over his 12-year career, though he has been dogged with criticism in recent years for failing to help the Clippers get out of the second round of the playoffs. Los Angeles reached the postseason in each of Paul’s six seasons with the team, but the Clippers were eliminated in the first round three times and in the Western Conference semifinals three other times.
Perhaps the most crushing playoff series loss of his tenure with the Clippers came to the Rockets in 2015. Los Angeles had a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals before Houston won the last three games of the series to send Paul and the Clippers home early yet again.
The Clippers were eliminated in the first round the past two seasons and Paul isn’t the only star who may be leaving. Blake Griffin informed the team last week that he is opting out of the last year of his contract to explore free agency. J.J. Redick also is a free agent.
In Houston, Paul joins a team that was eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals. With Harden’s move to point guard last season, Paul’s role will probably be a bit different than it has been in Los Angeles.
But he will add another scoring dimension in replacing Beverley in the starting lineup. Beverley received NBA defensive first team honors last week, but averaged just 9.3 points in his five seasons with the Rockets.
Coach Mike D’Antoni knows the biggest question people have is how Harden and Paul will play together. But he isn’t worried about that and said it will be a joy to have both of them on his team.
“You can sit around all day and say why it wouldn’t work, but it does because they want it to work,” D’Antoni said. “And I know James and Chris want it to work and that’s all it takes.”
Beverley is the only Houston starter involved in the deal, with Williams and Dekker playing reserve roles last season. Both Morey and D’Antoni admitted shipping Beverley off was a tough decision. “Any trade you feel great about one thing and bad about another,” D’Antoni said. “I’ve probably coached 160 guys in this league and (Beverley’s) one of the top 5. Just his heart and soul and what he does so you hate that. But Chris Paul is Chris Paul and I’ve thought for the last 10 years that he was the best point guard in the league until I coached James, obviously. So it’s great to have both of them.”
Williams, the 2014-15 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, was traded to the Rockets from the Los Angeles Lakers in February. He averaged 14.9 points and three rebounds in 23 games for Houston.
Dekker, the 18th pick in the 2015 draft, missed all but three games as a rookie because of back surgery. The small forward was healthy this season and appeared in 77 games and averaged 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds. Harrell, a second-round pick in 2015, averaged 6.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in two seasons in Houston. Wiltjer spent most of his rookie season last year in the D-league after going undrafted out of Gonzaga.
Houston also acquired Ryan Kelly from Atlanta and Tim Quarterman from Portland for cash considerations and Shawn Long from Philadelphia for a future second-round pick and cash considerations.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who are close friends with Paul, also tweeted congratulations to the Rockets’ new point guard: