Falcon Points

Rockets make bold move in trading Paul for Westbrook

Russell Westbrook
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

"That's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off."

- Dodgeball

So the Rockets made a big move on Thursday, agreeing to trade Chris Paul and draft picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook.

It gives the Rockets two recent MVPs, and former Thunder teammates. It also unloads Chris Paul's onerous contract, one that was looking worse and worse as Paul declined significantly last year. Granted, they will be paying Westbrook more money and for more term, but he is younger and a better player at this stage of his career.

Let's take a look at the deal:

The positives

Westbrook at this stage of his career is a much better player than Paul. It gives the Rockets an incredible 1-2 punch with two MVPs in their prime.

They also appear to be keeping some key elements around them - Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker.

On the surface, they get a significantly better player, make a major splash for the owner and the fan base and create an intriguing contender in a loaded Western Conference. Their backcourt should match up with any team in basketball, and in a suddenly wide open title race, the Rockets are positioned for another run.

The negatives

Can Harden and Westbrook - two high volume, ball dominant guards - co-exist? They are almost the same player. There will be concerns about Westbrook fitting in coach Mike D'Antoni's system. The Rockets give up two first-round picks in the deal, but they have not had interest in the draft in years. If the volatile duo can't co-exist, this could backfire big time.

Westbrook's contract is massive. He is locked up until 2022-23 and will make in excess of $40 million the last three years of the deal.

What's next?

The Thunder might make another deal, sending Paul to a contender - Lakers? 76ers? Heat? - for even more picks. They are in full rebuild mode. If the Rockets can keep their core around the two superstars, they should be a serious contender in the West.

The bottom line

The contract is not really a factor. That is the going rate for a superstar, and Westbrook is that. As for co-existing? Remember, people had the same concerns about Paul. It worked in Year 1, not so much in Year 2. Westbrook, like Harden and Paul, has never really been a postseason master. That will be a concern. But the Rockets had to make this move. They simply were not going to be good enough if Paul continued to regress as he did last year. They get a significantly better player in the deal without sacrificing anything of value.

Will they be a better team? Probably. Good enough to win a title? Maybe, maybe not. But they were not going to be before the trade, so it is a move they had to make.

If nothing else, it will be entertaining.

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Will the Astros ever give Joey Loperfido a chance to fix the black hole at first base? Composite Getty Image.

So how long do you suppose the Astros will cling to the ludicrous notion that Jose Abreu will return to being a sustainably decent hitter (much less a good hitter)? The All-Star break? The trade deadline July 30? The day the Astros are eliminated from the playoff race? End of the season? End of his contract at the end of next season? Maybe they sign him to a two-year extension?

Since rejoining the team Abreu has played in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has seven hits in 42 at bats for a .167 batting average. That’s only not horrible in comparison to the sub-pathetic .099 mark Abreu had when hiatus time arrived. Since returning, Abreu has walked once. If you remember or are familiar with Susan Powter you know what comes next. STOP THE INSANITY!

Kyle Tucker’s absence obviously punches a big hole in the Astros’ lineup. Still, that regularly running out Jeremy Pena in the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, is ridiculous! Pena has been abysmal for the last month. May 11 he put up his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 29 games since, Pena has added one more homer with an anemic on-base percentage of .238. Not batting average, OBP. Yuck. All teams solicit All-Star votes for non-worthy guys. Pena plays in the same league as Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager, and Anthony Volpe. Hyping Pena for the All-Star game is plain ol’ silly.

Jon Singleton ever slotting in the lineup fourth or fifth, sigh. He of one homer and 28 strikeouts in his last 79 at bats. It’s just a sad state of affairs that no one below Pena or Singleton in the lineup should obviously be higher in the lineup. Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, Trey Cabbage are all bottom third of the lineup if in the lineup type guys. Chas McCormick seemingly losing almost all of his hitting ability has hurt. Yainer Diaz stinking for much more of the season to date than he’s been good has hurt.

The refusal to try Joey Loperfido at first base is somewhere from perplexing to stupid. Look, Loperfido is not an elite prospect. His poor contact skills may doom him from becoming a quality regular. But find out! He struck out a bunch in his first taste but also hit .333. The low upside of the Abreu-Singleton combo is obvious. Evidently to just about all but Astros’ decision makers. Going with Trey Cabbage over Loperfido in the outfield also underwhelms.

Chasing down the Mariners?

It could all still turn for the better, but the Astros are at increasing risk of fading to oblivion behind Seattle in the American League West race. They deserve to be 31-38. They have a losing record at home, they have a losing record on the road. They have a losing record in day games, they have a losing record in night games. They are 7-14 in games against left-handed starting pitchers, they are 24-24 (hey, .500, yippee!) vs. right-handed starters. It would take a serious collapse to fall entirely out of the Wild Card race before the trade deadline, but the Astros are flirting with danger there too. They have to leapfrog several teams to get to the third Wild Card position, currently held by the Minnesota Twins. This doesn’t seem to be a good weekend to gain ground on them. Not that A.J. Hinch’s Detroit Tigers visiting Minute Maid Park this weekend are anything special, though in Friday night’s series opener the Astros face the arguably best starting pitcher in the big leagues this season (Tarik Skubal). But the Twins have four games at home against the lowly Oakland A’s.

If Minnesota is not to overtake Kansas City and Cleveland to win the AL Central, you know Carlos Correa would love to make the playoffs at his ex-team’s expense. Wednesday Correa banged out the first five-hit game of his career. It’s pretty amazing that Jose Altuve has never had a five-hit game given how great a hitter he’s been and the relatively few walks he’s drawn. Sunday in Anaheim, Altuve racked up his 39th four-hit game. Remember, last September, Altuve hit five home runs over seven innings that overlapped two games against the Texas Rangers.

George Springer is the lone Astro ever to rack up six hits in a game, doing so at Oakland in 2018. So far this month, Springer is six for 40. Springer has two seasons left after this one on the six-year 150 million dollar contract he signed with Toronto. At 34 years old he is playing as if washed up. 2023 was the worst season of Springer’s career and he has fallen off a cliff from there thus far in 2024. Springer is batting .198 with his OPS at a sickly .582.

There is only one player in the modern era (1900 forward) of Major League Baseball to amass seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1975 Rennie Stennett went seven for seven at Wrigley Field in a Pittsburgh Pirates 22-0 obliteration of the Chicago Cubs. The “Bleacher Bums” must have had fun that day.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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