The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Paul opted into the final year of his $24.2 million contract, which allowed LA to make the trade.
In exchange, Houston will send guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams; forward Sam Dekker; and a 2018 first-round pick (protected No. 1-3) to the Clippers. There are also smaller pieces to the deal, including non-guaranteed contracts that haven’t been disclosed yet.
Paul could’ve opted out of the final year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent.
This would’ve allowed him to sign a new contract starting at $34 million per season. The 12-year veteran can still make plenty of money with Houston because he’s eligible for a 5-year, $205-million max extension with his new team.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s continue discussing why this deal happened, how it makes Houston better, and why it doesn’t work in their favor.
Paul Wanted to Play with Harden
Paul played in LA for 6 seasons and had some pretty good seasons there. But his former team has been marred by an inability to get out of the conference semi-finals. Going further, it’s unclear if the Paul/Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan trio was ever going to advance out of the brutal West.
This fueled Paul’s desire to play with a superstar like Harden. “The Beard” is coming off the best season of his career – averages of 29.1 PPG, 11.2 APG, 8.2 RPG – and finished a close second place behind Russell Westbrook in the 2017 MVP voting.
Paul and Harden were in talks before he opted in, discussing how they could thrive together. And now we’ll see how this scenario plays out.
As for the Clippers, they lost their long-time floor general. But the fact that they got contributors and a (late) first-round pick is at least better than the nothing they would’ve received if Paul left in free agency.
How does Paul Fit into the Rockets’ Game Plan
New head coach Mike D’Antoni brought his uptempo style and it worked wonders for the team.
Houston improved their record from 41-41 to 55-27, while setting records for three-point shooting. They were the feel-good story of the NBA…until the playoffs happened.
The Rockets battled San Antonio in a tough semi-finals series, before laying down in Game 6 at home. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs still blew out Houston 114-75, with Harden scoring 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
But in comes Paul, who adds another offensive weapon who can also distribute the ball. The 9-time All-Star is coming off a season where he averaged 18.1 PPG, 9.2 APG, 5.0 RPG, and 2.0 SPG.
Going beyond the numbers, Paul gives this team a serious playmaker who takes pressure off Harden. The Rockets have good shooters like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. But none of these players can create like Paul.
Going further, Harden can play off the ball more, take longer rests, and have another player to handle the ball when defensive attention is completely focused on him.
Why Paul doesn’t Fit with Houston
The biggest problem is that Paul and Harden both need the ball to excel. Neither is a Klay Thompson-type, who can still star as a spot-up shooter.
Harden and Paul won’t defer to one another, which will give them both a share of the ball. However, it might also take them time to learn how to play each other.
Another problem is the loss of Beverly. Although he doesn’t have half of Paul’s playmaking abilities, Beverly is a strong on-the-ball defender who’ll be sorely missed. This isn’t to say that Paul isn’t also good at defense (2.0 SPG). But Beverly is a defensive stopper who isn’t afraid to dirty up the game when necessary.
The Williams loss also hurts because he provides instant offense (14.9 PPG) and gets to the free throw line numerous times. Losing Dekker and the (late first-round pick) are much smaller pieces to give up.
Rockets Championship Odds with Paul
Even with the downsides we covered above, Paul is going to make this team better. But how much better? Good enough to get past the Warriors and Spurs?
Houston now has a chance of doing both. We won’t anoint the Rockets as favorites in the West. In fact, we still think they’re third best right now.
But with Paul, Houston is a much-closer third that could possibly beat San Antonio or Golden State if everything goes right. That said, it’ll definitely be fun to watch the Rockets’ improvement with Paul and Harden both running the show.