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Sunday, July 02, 2017

How Will the Chris Paul Trade Impact the Rockets and the Clippers?

The Houston Rockets acquired perennial All-NBA point guard Chris Paul from the L.A. Clippers 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.

NBA conventional wisdom is that the team that acquires the best player "wins" a trade, so from that perspective Houston is the clear winner in this deal. However, even if you buy the premise that Houston "won," it is not clear that the Rockets significantly improved their chances to win a title.

Chris Paul joins James Harden to form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA. Both players can shoot, score off of the dribble and create open shots for their teammates. Yet, despite their accomplishments and skill sets, there is a large body of evidence suggesting that Paul and Harden are two very good players who--for different reasons--are much better suited to being the second option on a championship team than to being the first option on a championship team.

Paul has proven to be a feisty and divisive player who feuds with coaches and teammates. He has never taken a team past the second round of the playoffs despite being surrounded by excellent talent for most of his career, so it is puzzling that he is so often praised as a great leader. Paul is generously listed at 6-0 tall; he is powerfully built but ultimately he is a small man in a large man's game and thus he is injury prone and has a tendency to wear down in the playoffs.

Harden gives minimal to no defensive effort and his gimmicky offensive style is not nearly as effective in the playoffs against good teams as it is in the regular season against lesser squads. With Harden at the helm, the Rockets have lost in the first round three times in five years under three coaches.

Another major concern for any savvy Rockets fan is that Paul is a defensive-minded player but Coach Mike D'Antoni and Harden do not share that defensive mindset. Paul will confront anyone at any time, while Harden pouts when he is criticized; the interactions between those players after Harden blows multiple defensive assignments will be very interesting.

The other side of the court could also be challenging as well. Paul and Harden both want to monopolize the ball and control the pace of the game, with Paul preferring to grind it out in the halfcourt set while Harden likes to push the tempo.

Houston gave up a lot of depth to acquire Paul. The Rockets beat the Thunder in the first round of the 2017 playoffs because of their depth, not because of Harden; the Thunder actually did quite well during the time that Harden was on the court. There is obvious value to adding a star to the roster but adding an aging, small star whose skill set and demeanor may not fully mesh with the other star on the team may not yield enough to offset all of the value provided by the sacrificed depth.

I am not suggesting that acquiring Paul is necessarily a bad move; if anything, it is a positive sign for the Rockets that perhaps Daryl Morey is realizing that his "foundational player" James Harden needs serious star power by his side to go very far in the playoffs. I just am not convinced that this move is enough to enable the Rockets to get past the second round of the playoffs.

As for the Clippers, the Chris Paul experiment had clearly run its course: three first round losses and three second round losses in six years, including blowing a 3-1 second round lead to Harden's Rockets in 2015. There is nothing to suggest that if the Clippers kept their nucleus intact--which probably was not even possible since it appears that Paul wanted out--then they would ever advance past the second round of the playoffs. The next task for the Clippers is to rebuild around franchise player Blake Griffin, who has agreed to a five year, $173 million deal. It is unclear if Griffin is good enough--and can stay healthy enough--to be the best player on a championship team but by dealing Paul and opening up the bank vault for Griffin the Clippers have chosen their path for the next several years. Guaranteeing that much money to Griffin is risky considering his track record but losing him and completely rebooting is an unpalatable option to any sensible general manager.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:21 AM

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2 Comments:

At Monday, July 03, 2017 6:36:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Excellent article. I expect more from Chris Paul than almost any other point guard I've watched in the last 25 years, but then again, no PG ever truly dominates unless he's surrounded by great play finishers and rebounders and defenders, like the Detroit Pistons in the late 80s and the 2004 edition, or he himself is a once-in-a-generation type like Johnson on those Showtime Lakers. Paul is as good as Thomas in my purview, but not as successful for the aforementioned reasons.

But playing for the cursed franchise in the Clippers was probably enough to prevent any degree of success. Now that he's on the Rockets, things might be different. There's talk that they are trading Eric Gordon and Clint Capela to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. Another big name, but this opens a new can of worms: who will play defense and rebound for the Rockets? It certainly won't be Melo or Harden, and Paul can only do so much on the perimeter.

 
At Tuesday, July 04, 2017 3:28:00 PM, Anonymous Zaahir said...

You cannot win with 2 guys who want to hold the ball for 20 seconds. The Rockets will have regular season success again, but the playoffs are a different story altogether. The Rockets still lack one thing the Warriors have in spades, talented young superstars. Curry, Durant, Thompson and Green are all under 30 years old. How will they bridge that gap? They lost their depth with the Paul trade and even if they get Melo, that's 3 defensive liabilities in the starting lineup. I believe that the Clippers were overall a better team than the Rockets last season (when they were healthy). I guess if are a stat gazer then this looks like a great pairing, i just don't see any long term effectiveness.

 

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