Falcon Points

Rockets make bold move in trading Paul for 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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As is our annual tradition at the NBA all-star break, Couch Slouch looks ahead to the remainder of the season – laced with remarkable perspicacity* – at no additional cost to you, the reader.

Yes, I will provide the acumen of subscription-based The Athletic and the access of pricey NBA League Pass…ALL FOR FREE.

Let's do it!

It used to be, "NBA Action, It's FANtastic." Now it's, "NBA Action, Bombs Away!" For much of NBA history, a basket was worth two points. In 1979, they decided that some baskets – from longer distances – would be three points. Then more recently, some analytic smart alecks figured out that three-point baskets were worth one more point than two-point baskets, so let's just make three-point baskets.

The game has changed.

The Milwaukee Bucks' 7-foot center, Brook Lopez, has taken more three-point shots this season (242) than two-point shots (234). The Dallas Mavericks' Kristaps Porzingis, at 7-foot-3, is the tallest man on the floor, yet he has taken almost as many three-pointers (277) as two-pointers (362).

We have evolved from those Pistons'-Bad-Boys, Pat-Riley-with-the-Knicks 88-85 slugfests of the late 1980s and early '90s to the current-day 128-126 playground skirmishes. The games have gone from rugby matches to the Ice Capades.

The fast-break layup has morphed into the fast-break 23-footer.

There is feasibly a middle ground between 88-85 and 128-126; I don't know what that exact number would be, but I always vote for the middle ground.

Three cheers for Ben Simmons, the three-ball contrarian. The multi-skilled Philadelphia 76ers' point guard will not do what everyone wants him to do – take three-point shots. You know how some kids have a mental block about math? Simmons has a mental block about three-pointers.

In his first two NBA seasons, Simmons did not make a three-pointer, attempting only 17 of them. This season he is two-for-six from beyond the arc.

You be you, Ben, two points at a time.

I stand with Simmons: Years ago, newspaper editors insisted I write longer articles with bigger words. No way, I told them – I write short and I use one-syllable words. And I'm still here.

(* "Perspicacity" is a rare exception.)

If it were up to Gregg Popovich, no one would ever take a 25-foot shot. One of the NBA's greatest coaches ever and one of the most severe critics of three-ball, Popovich is in danger of having two remarkable streaks end: In 22 full seasons of helming the San Antonio Spurs, he has never had a losing record and never missed the postseason.

"I've hated the three for 20 years," Popovich said in 2018. At the moment the Spurs are 28th out of 30 NBA teams in three-point shots made and 29th in three-pointers attempted.

The Spurs are 23-31 – five games out of a playoff spot – and their best chance might be to petition the league for transfer into the Eastern Conference.

As usual, the Eastern Conference should be quarantined. The 19-38 Detroit Pistons have a better chance of making the East playoffs than the 33-22 Oklahoma Thunder and 33-22 Dallas Mavericks have of earning home-court advantage in the West playoffs.

Then again, the Pistons also have a better chance of making the playoffs than Ben Simmons does of ever making another three-point shot.

The Golden State Warriors have gone from penthouse to outhouse, three points at a time. Many folks – I am not among them – are delighted that the Warriors, after five straight NBA Finals appearances with consecutive seasons of 67-15, 73-9, 67-15, 58-24 and 57-25, currently have an NBA-worst 12-43 record.

Enjoy it while you can.

Next season, aside from a core of young talent and the likely No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the Warriors will also have all-star Draymond Green, plus the return of the NBA's greatest three-point-shooting back court ever, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Zion Williamson is the real deal. But he's only taking one three-pointer per game. DO THE MATH, son: 3 > 2.

Ask The Slouch - Special Houston Astros Edition (again)


Q. Is it true that Astros owner Jim Crane has hired Rudy Giuliani to visit Ukraine in search of proof that Hunter Biden was the mastermind behind the sign-stealing fiasco? (Rick LaDuca; Ashburn, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. If the Astros ever hire Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as manager and starting pitcher, respectively, will Rob Manfred preemptively suspend them as repeat cheaters? (Tom Walker; Colonie, N.Y.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. When MLB adds trash cans to its merchandise list, will they only be available with the Astros logo or will they include all teams with former Astros players/coaches? (David Roberts; Fairfax, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. How much trouble is Carlos Beltran's grandmother in for not providing proper guidance? (Ron Anderson; Lynnwood, Wash.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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