Why the Rockets had to make the Russell Westbrook trade

I felt sick initially when seeing news of the trade that brought Russell Westbrook to Houston. I had never despised a player so much in my 24 years of watching professional basketball. He represented flash over substance and the Rockets traded away the player I consider the smartest in modern basketball history to get him. But I’ve since calmed down and warmed up to the trade. I’m certainly excited because Westbrook is no doubt entertaining to watch. But in the now five days which have elapsed since the deal, in reading and hearing all of the different opinions, I think I’ve come around. I understand why the Rockets felt they had to make the trade and I see how it improves the franchise’s hopes of winning a title. Yesterday, I wrote about why I hated the deal. I promised I’d give the positives today.

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Why the Russell Westbrook trade was a mistake for the Rockets

  • I’ve actually since come around on the trade but just wanted to make a catchy title. I’m going to write later this week, perhaps tomorrow, about why I think it was a good trade.
  • Every thought piece I’ve read or podcast I’ve listened to delving into the pros and cons of this deal qualifies arguments as to why it can work with a disclaimer about both guys needing to change. “If James and Russ start moving off the ball, this can work.” “If James and Russ start being more engaged defensively, this can work.” But what indication do we have at all of either of these guys being willing to change, particularly regarding the former? All we have are their words, which means next to nothing. I don’t think there will be conflict, due to their friendship. But if I had to predict, what’s going to happen is that they’ll take turns playing iso or as the ball handler in the pick and roll while the other guy rests and takes a break at the three point line, not making any attempt to get open or set back screens or do anything to engage the defense. It will work to the tune of at least 50 wins, because both guys are so incredibly gifted, and there will be tons of highlights of the pair carving up defenses. Russ will get a ton of points in transition. But they’ll go up against the Clippers in the Conference Finals, and Paul George will be on Harden, and Patrick Beverley will be on Russ, while Kawhi is playing free safety covering the other three guys. And that’s when the lack of movement is going to kill the Rockets. One might retort that they moved plenty without the ball back when they were together with the Thunder, particularly Harden, but that was a completely different era before both players became who they are today. With stature comes a diminished willingness to do the other little things that contribute to winning.
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And like that, the Chris Paul era in Houston is over

Chris Paul deserved better. I just can’t manage to shake the feeling that we did him wrong. I know that there are those who will say that he has $160 million to help him get over it. But money isn’t everything. (Not to mention the fact that that contract was a promise repaid for Paul opting into the last year of his deal with the Clippers.) Paul chose Houston–this wasteland spurned annually, most recently by Jimmy Butler–leaving behind the bright lights of Los Angeles in search of a title. He thought our team could get him there.

While nothing has yet come out, at the moment of writing, I’ll be comforted only if further news breaks that Paul himself wanted out of Houston. Hopefully he can land somewhere to end out his career with the dignity a point guard of his stature deserves. I don’t want to see Chris Paul playing out the final days of whatever physical ability he has left wasting away in a rebuilding project like Oklahoma City.

Paul was my most favorite player in the league even before he joined the Rockets. But when the rumors first broke that he could be had, I didn’t want him. I just didn’t see how he and Harden could co-exist both being ball dominant future Hall of Fame point guards. In the end, I guess I was sort of right. They couldn’t. It’s just that what everybody expected to happen in Year 1 happened in Year 2. Year 1 ended up being the most magical Rockets season outside of the title years of 1994. The 65 win Rockets were actually one of the best teams of the decade. They would have won the title in most non-Warriors seasons.

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