What a week for the NBA.
All-Star point guard Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, resulting in a sports media frenzy and stunning Los Angeles Clipper fans. The reasons behind the Chris Paul trade and the trade’s impact on the future of the Rockets and Clippers are subject for debate. Here, we break it down.
Breaking Down Chris Paul Trade to Houston Rockets
Terms of Paul’s Trade
The Rockets announced that they had acquired Paul after the point guard opted into the final season of his contract with the Clippers.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) June 28, 2017
Paul’s final season was worth over $24 million, plus a trade bonus that he reduced from $3.6 million to $661,000 to complete the deal with Houston. It had previously been reported that the “Point God” would opt out of his contract with the Clippers to become a free agent.
Opting in simply made more sense.
It is not a foregone conclusion that Paul and Harden will gel on the court. Both are All-Stars who like to handle the ball – a lot – leading many to question their ability to successfully coexist on the hardwood.
I just want to point out that both Chris Paul and James Harden love to have the ball. Like, all the time.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 28, 2017
Additionally, Harden has played some of his best basketball at the point; it remains to be seen how effective he will be returning to a shooting guard role. Harden also has the reputation of being a quitter, which the fiercely competitive Paul may not tolerate.
By wisely limiting his commitment to the Rockets for only one season, Paul risks nothing. In a year, he will be in exactly the same position he’s in now. He will have the choice of re-signing with the Rockets for a five-year deal worth in excess of $200 million, or he can sign a four-year contract with another franchise for approximately $150 million. Notably, Paul will also have the ability to join LeBron James in free agency in 2018. Should the banana-boating duo desire to play together, they would undoubtedly have their choice of NBA franchises.
Clippers Get Solid Deal in Trade
In exchange for Paul, the Clippers received Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, Darrun Hilliard, a top-three protected 2018 first-round pick, and $661,000 in cash considerations.
Beverley, 28, is a 6’1” point guard. He contributed 9.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game for Rockets last season. Beverley was also selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.
Dekker, 23, is a 6’9” small forward. He was selected by the Rockets 18th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. He contributed 6.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game last season.
Williams, 30, is a 6’1” combo guard. He averaged 17.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists for the Rockets last season. In 2015, he was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
Harrell, 23, is a 6’8” power forward and backup center. Last season with the Rockets, Harrell averaged 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists.
Liggins, 29, is a 6’6” swingman who has played for six different teams since entering the NBA in 2011. He did not play during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Last season, Liggins bounced from the Toronto Raptors to the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Dallas Mavericks. He averaged 2.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.9 assists.
Wiltjer, 24, is a 6’10” power forward who will be entering his second year in the league. He averaged 0.9 points, 0.7 rebounds, and 0.1 assists for Houston last season.
Hilliard, 24, a 6’6” shooting guard out of Detroit, was waived by the Clippers soon after the trade.
Why Paul Left
SportsCenter anchor Michael Eaves reported that the tension between Paul and Rivers started as soon as the Clippers acquired Rivers’ son. Paul and others allegedly thought that the younger Rivers acted entitled because of his father’s position and that he received more favorable treatment than the rest of the team. Things reportedly came to a head when Rivers turned down a trade that would have brought Carmelo Anthony to Los Angeles in exchange for his son and Jamal Crawford. “That event led Paul to feel that keeping his son on the roster was more important to Doc than improving the team,” Eaves wrote.
Rivers quickly weighed in to call the rumors false.
These false rumors are comedy…so fictional it's actually amusing! People will say or do anything to get attention. A lot 🤡🤡 out there
— Austin Rivers (@AustinRivers25) June 28, 2017
Poor relationships with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were also reported to have contributed to Paul’s exit. The fact that Paul failed to thank his teammates or the Clippers organization in a post-announcement tweet only fueled speculation.
Unbelievable amount of emotions right now.. pic.twitter.com/1FB7ade7uC
— Chris Paul (@CP3) June 28, 2017
Never one to shy from commenting about controversy, head coach Doc Rivers told the LA Times on Wednesday that Paul left “because he wanted to be with James Harden.” Rivers added: “Do I disagree? Yeah, I think he would have been better served [in Los Angeles]. But that’s not for me. That’s [for] C.P. to decide, and he decided against that.”
Rivers also addressed the more unsavory media stories circulating regarding Paul’s trade head on, commenting “We’ve all heard the stories about Blake and D.J. and Austin…The one thing I know is he didn’t leave because of any of those three guys. He left because he felt he would have a better chance to win somewhere else.”
Rivers obviously regrets how it ended with Paul, but he has optimism for the future. “I hate the way it ended,” Rivers said. “I wish we could have ended it better, as far as winning. But as a franchise, we love where we’re at.”
Good Trade for Houston?
Any team would be lucky to score Paul. He is hands-down one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game – a nine-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA team member, and nine-time All-Defensive team player. Last season, Paul averaged 18.1 points, 9.2 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game for Los Angeles. His efforts in the playoffs were particularly noteworthy, despite the Clippers’ first-round exit. Paul averaged 25.3 points, 9.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game in post-season play.
The Rockets hope that pairing Paul with explosive MVP runner-up Harden, as well as Houston’s core of Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, and Ryan Anderson, may result in the formation of another super-team in the West. The Rockets finished the 2016-17 season with the league’s third-best record, and Paul simply adds to their arsenal of weapons. If Paul and Harden are able to quickly figure out how to coexist and share the ball, the Rockets will again be a top-three finisher in the West in 2017-18.
The timing of the Paul trade works particularly well for Houston. By trading before July 1, the Rockets can operate in free agency as a team over the cap, with $10-11 million in exceptions. During a press conference regarding the trade, Rockets GM Daryl Morey commented, “It was a win-win situation…it allows us to continue to have our exceptions to go out and do free agency with some larger dollars.”
What the Trade Means for the Clippers
Paul’s departure from Los Angeles is a significant hit that the franchise will have to endure. His leadership will be particularly missed. However, there have been some early post-trade signs suggesting that all is not lost. In a series of tweets on Thursday, the LA Times’ Brad Turner reported that new acquisition Beverley was already asserting himself as a leader within the Clippers’ franchise and was actively participating in the recruitment of Griffin.
Patrick Beverley to Times on trade: “I’m coming to beat some (butt) and win. That’s all I know."
— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) June 29, 2017
Beverley: “Of course all the Houston guys that are coming along with me to LA, they are excited. Yeah, I’m on top of everything.”
— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) June 29, 2017
Beverley on BG: "I’m all in for that recruitment stuff to try to get him to stay. I talked to him. He seems excited."
— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) June 29, 2017
If Griffin re-signs with Los Angeles, the Clippers could still be highly competitive in the West. In addition to a handful of returning players, two solid draft picks (Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell), and the spoils of the Paul trade, the Clippers have cap space to try to entice a free agent to join their newly energized squad. As of Thursday evening, the free agents who the Clippers are reported to be interested in include: Chris Singleton, Jonathon Simmons, Rudy Gay, Danilo Gallinari, P.J. Tucker, James Johnson, Joe Ingles, and Andre Iguodala.
The Clippers don’t appear to be going into full rebuild mode just yet, but they may have no choice but to make more big changes. Sharpshooter J.J. Redick and elite defender Luc Mbah a Moute have both opted out of their contracts to become unrestricted free agents. Griffin, who is likely to be pursued by the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat, and Phoenix Suns, remains a free agency wild card. The Clippers can offer Griffin the best deal (approximately $175 million over five years), but they may be reluctant to go “all in” with Griffin given his durability issues. The reality is that the Clippers could enter the 2017-18 season with DeAndre Jordan, a couple of carry-over bench/role players (most notably Rivers and the never-aging Crawford), and a lot of new faces.