Just when you thought the NBA was done trading superstars, and the league was beginning to take shape, think again.
The Oklahoma City Thunder traded 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for aging star Chris Paul and picks on Thursday. The Thunder will will receive the Rockets’ two first round picks in 2024 and 2026, and will have two future pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.
The trading of Westbrook should come as no surprise after the Thunder dealt half of their dynamic-duo in Paul George to the Clippers earlier this month, signaling a clear rebuild in OKC. It was only a matter of time before they traded Westbrook, allowing him to go somewhere to contend for a championship.
However, trading him to Houston was a complete shocker, shaking up the Western Conference and the NBA. The Rockets are now paired with perhaps the best scoring duo in the NBA, making a statement to the rest of the league that they’re still in contention for a title. The trade significantly improves their chances, giving them a reliable and younger point guard.
Despite Paul being a future Hall of Fame caliber player, he’s on the decline. Often injured over the past few seasons and sometimes clashing with Harden, he wasn’t able to help the team get over the hump and into the Finals. The closest they got was taking the Warriors to a game seven in the 2018 Western Conference Finals. With the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers restocking and forming their own younger and more dynamic teams, the chances for a title in Houston became slimmer.
That all changes now.
Now paired with two of the last five league MVPs in their backcourt, the Rockets’ should contend. It will be up to head coach Mike D’Antoni to figure out how to get the new duo to co-exist. It will be a difficult task to say the least, as each is accustomed to having the ball and having it often. The biggest problem will be if there is enough “ball” to go around.
As for the Thunder and Paul, it remains to be seen if he will stays in OKC, is traded or is bought-out. Paul is 34 and still carries a three-year, $124.1 million contract. Hardly chump change for an injury prone guard. The likely scenario is that Paul is moved one way or another. Most likely in a buyout. If that’s the case, don’t be too surprised if the Lakers find a way to pair him with his pal LeBron James.
Stranger things have happened this offseason.