Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Chris Paul Trade, Or The Age Of Not Empire

The Hoopers, Season Two
Today in the NBA, Houston pulled off a monster of a trade to get Chris Paul, a year away from free agency and seemingly one of many people to tire of Doc Rivers' act (especially in regards to his not very good player/son Austin), for a seven-pack collection of tolerables and a future pick, AKA what happens in the NBA when a superstar decides to pull the chute, rather than re-sign with his current team. There are, of course, other rumors afloat that the Rockets are now angling to also get Carmelo Anthony and Paul George in a desperate attempt to close the gap with the dreaded Warriors, but for now, let's unpack what actually happened. (Also, um, Carmelo Anthony not so secretly sucks. But that's another column for another day.)

First, what the Clips got. Patrick Beverly is a very good defensive point guard who scores just enough to start, but will never be a star, because, well Offense Matters and defensive hammers can be found on the open market. Kind of like how Beverly was. Lou Williams is a reasonable enough bench scorer who, when his shot isn't falling, is an active liability; there's a reason he's been on so many teams over the last few years, and not so much in terms of playing games in May. Montrezl Harrell is an athletic back-up 5 and Sam Dekker is a 3/4 who could be part of a balanced bench and breakfast' they are both tolerable enough to be more than fungible, but probably won't escape the Wheel of Mediocrity. The other three guys, you haven't heard of and won't, and the 2018 first round pick, since there's no chance in hell that it will hit in the lottery, also doesn't really matter all that much. If the Clips can sign Blake Griffin now, keep him and DeAndre Jordan healthy, Beverly gets a bit better on offense, and someone else from the fixin's bar develops, the Clips could actually win this deal, if only because Paul was gonna walk for nothing.

And the reason why they could win the deal, despite giving up a 9-time All-Star and perpetual short pick as best pure point in the NBA is that.... Chris Paul is 32, increasingly brittle, and entering the decline portion of his career in which he still thinks he can take over games, when he can't. Houston is going to put him in the same backcourt with James Harden, which is to say that two very heavy usage guys are going to have to learn to live together... and while Paul is a good defensive player, he's, well, 32. The past few years, the secret reason why the Warriors have worn the Clippers out like a bad suit is because Paul can't stay with Stephen Curry any more, and Curry knew it.

There's also this: Harden had an amazing year last year, but he was absolutely stone-cold spent by the time the playoffs came around... kind of like, well, the Clips every year with Paul, where they never got past the second round of the playoffs, despite frequently having home court.

Could it work? Sure; great players who pass tend to make the players around them better, and the Rockets still have Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, aka three guys who shoot it well from three and will have as few hands in their faces in 2017-18 as whoever plays with LeBron James. They don't have the bigs to compete, but in the NBA, bigs don't seem to matter quite so much anymore, and with five legit three-point threats in the lineup in smallball crunch time, the Rockets could score in bunches and leave teams in the dust. Besides, as the Warriors showed last year, tolerable benchies will gravitate like bees to flowers when they sense the Superstar Train is a running. Mike D'Antoni's run and fun system is also likely to attract people who don't want to muck stalls for a living.

But in the bigger picture, Houston just added another guy who isn't at his best in the playoffs (sorry, CP3, but a lifetime of precedent tends to predict a future of it)... to a team with a coach who always bones it in the playoffs, who had an established MVP candidate who was last seen... stinking up the joint in his last game of the playoffs. And for all of the threes they are going to shoot, that shot needs to be 40% to be worth 60% from inside the arc, and the Rockets are going to be a layup line on cutters making dunks next year in long rebound transition.

The Clips got something out of Paul rather than letting him walk for nothing, but it's hard to see the Rockets as any more threatening then they were before the trade went down. More fun to watch, sure, but actual threat to hoist a trophy... not so much. The NBA is a two-way game now, and Houston is only seeing the frontcourt in the big picture.

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