Rockets Reloaded

Rockets trade Chris Paul, picks, for Russell Westbrook

Thursday evening the Houston Rockets traded point guard Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for all-star point guard Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook, a former teammate of James Harden, had begun trade discussions with the Thunder's front office immediately following a trade which sent MVP candidate Paul George to the Clippers in exchange for promising young point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and even more draft picks. Realizing that the Thunder had suddenly been forced into a rebuild mode through no fault of their own, Westbrook and the Thunder sought to find an amicable solution.

The shocking move once again thrusts the Houston Rockets into title contention, as Chris Paul had begun experiencing a noticeable decline in production during his second season in the Space City. Add in the alleged friction between Paul and Harden, and suddenly the Rockets became a very interested party from the outset of Westbrook's perceived availability.

In what seemed like an uncharacteristically dormant offseason for General Manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets suddenly re-injected their team with one of the most athletic talents in the entire league. Westbrook brings a tenacity and ferocity that is beloved by the team he plays for and reviled by the opposition.

Say what you want about Westbrook's attitude or demeanor. None of that matters. The Rockets won this trade outright, and in a lopsided fashion. It was allowed to be lopsided by the Thunder out of respect to Westbrook and everything he's done for the franchise.

Houston now boasts two MVP-caliber superstars once again with a franchise that has lost none of it's starters, and has resigned every key bench piece that has helped the Rockets to the league's second best combined record throughout the past three years. And even if it all blows up in our faces, man will it be entertaining to watch.

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Life after Correa may not be the worst thing. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Carlos Correa is having a damn good year. The Astros shortstop is hitting .285 with 24 homers, 87 RBI, 72 walks, .862 OPS, a 7.2 WAR, and a .981 fielding percentage. In any other year, those would be numbers worthy of being in the mix for AL MVP (if it weren't for that dastardly Shohei Otani). Correa is also in a contract year. He and the Astros were far enough apart that the season started and he's held true to not wanting to negotiate midseason.

The offers of six years for $120 million and five years for $125 million were both rejected by he and his camp. They're seeking something much longer and for more money on the annual average. With the team unwilling to meet those demands, it seems as if the team and the player are headed for a split.

Lots of Astros fans are not happy with the prospect of Correa leaving via free agency. Some think the team isn't doing enough and should pony up to bring him back. Some feel Correa should take what they're offering because it's a fair deal that'll allow the team to sign other players. Then, there's that small band of us that are totally okay with him leaving.

One of the main reasons I'm okay with him leaving is the players the team still has under control that are potential replacements. Aledmys Diaz and Pedro Leon are the first two guys that come to mind. Diaz is a 31-year-old vet who's stepped up when he's called upon. He can slide over to third and allow Alex Bregman to play shortstop. Leon is the team's 23-year-old hot prospect who signed as an outfielder that the team has been trying to turn into a shortstop. If Correa were to leave, he could instantly plug the hole Carlos would leave behind. Either of those options lead to my next point of being okay with Correa leaving which is to...

...allocate that money elsewhere. Whether it's signing a replacement (at short or third), or boosting the pitching staff, I'll be fine as long as it's money well spent. Signing a shortstop or third baseman would determine where Bregman would be playing. If said player takes significantly less than Correa and fills 70-80% of his offensive shoes, it'll be worth it. Others will have to step it up. If they find a deal on a top of the rotation starting pitcher, that would be ideal as well. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, this team has employed a six-man rotation, but doesn't have a true ace. Spending anywhere from $20-30 million a year on a top-notch pitcher to add to the staff would bolster this staff in more ways than one. It'll finally give them the ace they lack, plus it'll bump all the young talent (still under team control) down a peg creating depth and perhaps even creating bullpen depth.

The only way any of this works is if Correa isn't back. Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander's money comes off the books also. Freeing up that much payroll and not re-appropriating those resources to ensure this team stays in contention would be a first degree felony in sports court. I don't think Jim Crane wants that for this team. I for sure don't think James Click wants that as his legacy. Let's sit back and watch how the organization maneuvers this offseason and pray they get it right.


Editor's note: If you want to read the other side of the argument, check out Ken Hoffman's piece from Tuesday.

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