Rockets make bold move in trading Paul for Westbrook
"That's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off."
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:
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.
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.
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.