Falcon Points

Rockets make bold move in trading Paul for Westbrook

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"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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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