In what is undoubtedly the most active offseason in NBA history, we get yet another blockbuster trade.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have sent Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul, 2024 first round pick, 2026 first round pick, 2025 rights to a first round pick swap, and 2021 right to a first round pick swap.
It’s difficult to believe the Rockets had to give up FOUR first round picks just to get Paul off their books, that speaks to both how terrible his contract is, and how much injuries have taken a toll on the 34-year-old point guard. Chris Paul still has three years and $124 million left on his contract with a player option for the fourth year, an option he will certainly pick up.
This isn’t the first time the Rockets and Thunder have made a blockbuster trade, they agreed to terms back in 2012 that landed the Houston Rockets with future MVP, and franchise cornerstone, James Harden.
Seven years later, they’re back at it again, this time, reuniting the duo that was once in OKC.
Following the trades of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder now how acquired TEN first-round picks through 2026, that’s remarkable. The haul they’ve been able to get for those two is unprecedented.
Here is what OKC’s stash of first-round picks looks like:
The Rockets come out of this trade as the only team in the NBA with two MVPs on their roster. While you could debate hours on end about the fit with Harden and Westbrook being on the same team, one thing you can’t debate is that Harden and Westbrook are good friends, the same thing could not be said about Paul and Harden.
With reports saying that Harden and Paul were on edge with each other, this trade at least solves that problem– temporarily at least.
According to Thunder beat reporter Antonio Daniels, following a game, Westbrook would not stick around and chat with guys from the opposing team very often. The one exception to this? James Harden.
As mentioned Westbrook and Harden were teammates in OKC, but to say a lot has changed since 2012 for both of those players would be a gross understatement.
Both Harden and Westbrook are ball dominant, and I mean very ball dominant guards. While they finished one and two in assists, both of these guys are the only players in NBA history to have finished a season with a usage rating above 40%. To put things into perspective, if each of them maintained their 40% usage ratings, that would leave about 20% of shots for their teammates. That is not a lot of possessions to be shared.
So assuming them just taking turns playing ISO ball isn’t the Rockets only offense, it will require change from both parties. We have seldom seen Westbrook, –or Harden– play off ball for very long. One of the key skills Paul possessed that made him a fit for the Rockets was his ability to shoot the basketball.
It’s no secret, everyone knows Russ struggled mightily shooting the basketball this past season. Westbrook shot just 66% from the line, a career low. He shot 29% from three, 42% from the field, and had a true shooting percentage of just 50%, all of those are the lowest they’ve been since Russ’ second year in the league. No matter how much adjusting Russ does as far as his ability to play off ball, or what he can contribute on defense, if Russ doesn’t shoot the ball at least average, playing in D’Antoni’s system will be a struggle for him, and the Rockets.
Sam Presti has now placed the Thunder in a position where they can go a myriad of ways. They could flip Gallinari to a contender and acquire another asset or two to embrace the full rebuild. The Thunder could trade to acquire a star to place with Paul, Steven Adams, Shai Gilgeous Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari. Or they could just let things play out how they currently are, and just hope Presti strikes gold in the draft like he did when he paired KD, Russ, Harden and Ibaka originally.
This offseason has provided us with numerous super fun, and drama-filled storylines going into the 2019-20 season.
A lot of people took issue with Kevin Durant seemingly removing parity from the league with his move to Golden State… but those issues are gone.
The NBA is title is wide open, and up for grabs.