The Chris Paul Trade Aftermath — Ten Things to Think About
There is one myth about the sports calendar year that irks me a little bit — it's when people (many of them in the sports radio or sports writing business) lament the upcoming first week of July as the "deadest weak of the sports calendar." That's false, especially if you're in a good baseball town like Houston.
This week the Astros have a series with the Yankees at Minute Maid Park, and, more important, we have the soap opera of NBA free agency beginning tonight in the era of the Great Golden State Chase to keep our minds and Twitters occupied. Also, as with every NBA offseason, the Rockets are one of the most relevant players in NBA roster reshaping. I mean...CHRIS FREAKING PAUL!
Also, there is the small percentage chance that some idiot athlete is going to feel the need to be grand master of fireworks at his family's Independence Day picnic and experience some sort of explosives gaffe. Happens every year.
So I'm not buying the week of the Fourth of July as the "deadest week in sports." (Now, the week after? With only the MLB All-Star Game to sustain us? Okay, now you have an argument.) Along those lines, as we head into the weekend, here are my follow-up thoughts on the Chris Paul trade and what the next few days will look like in the NBA:
1. Daryl Morey is a great general manager.
A couple of weeks ago, Morey got a four-year extension, which was a) well deserved and b) a source of psychological hemorrhoids for everybody who's angry the Rockets haven't won a title on Morey's watch as general manager. The facts are they're one of the top three winningest teams in the league since his arrival, and he's been forced to rebuild and retool multiple times outing the last decade, all under the edict of an owner who will not allow for steps backward in the larger pursuit of steps forward (which I like). Put it this way — over the past five summers, there has been a discernible "marquee" free agent heading into July (For our purposes, I am counting Paul as a free agent because he would have signed with the Rockets if all parties had not agreed to do a trade instead):
2013: Dwight Howard, HOU
2014: LeBron James, CLE
2015: LaMarcus Aldridge, SAS
2016: Kevin Durant, GSW
2017: Chris Paul, HOU
That's a 40 percent win rate on the hardest thing to do in the NBA (other than win a title) — securing a superstar-level player. Hell, I could add in the Harden trade for the best acquisition of the 2012 offseason, and now it's 50 percent. We're very fortunate GM-wise in this town right now. Which reminds me...
2. Jeff Luhnow, it's your turn...
Rick Smith swung big and got the Texans' future franchise quarterback. Daryl Morey swung big and got the Rockets a future Hall of Fame point guard. July 31 is looming, Jeff...sure could use an extra arm or two...Okay, back to the Rockets.
3. Les Alexander is the best owner in the history of this city....
When a deal like the Paul trade goes down, it's a lock that we will hear Morey lauding the resources that Les Alexander allows his staff to have in constructing the best team possible. In this case, not just the (presumed) green light on what will be a very pricy extension for Paul, but also the random millions of dollars Morey was given to purchase a slew of contracts to make the trade work for cap purposes. Think about the list of All-Star players who have come through the doors via trade or free agency on Alexander's watch (granted, some in their twilight years, but still) — Drexler, Barkley, Pippen, McGrady, Artest, Harden, Howard, Paul. They haven't all worked out. In fact, It ended somewhat sourly for about half of them, but you can't win if you don't play.
4. What do we make of Chris Paul's contractual situation?
So right now Paul is technically under the last year of his deal and eligible for a four-year, $150 million extension from the Rockets in January. If you add in this season to the four-year extension and blend in the state income tax effect of living in Houston, the net after taxes of the next five years is about the same as if he'd taken the "Super Max" deal in Los Angeles with the incumbent Clippers. Now, if Paul waits until the end of next season, he can get the super max (five years, more than $200 million guaranteed) from Houston, but paying more than $40 million to a 37-year-old point guard is a little scary, if you're the Rockets. The Clippers reportedly balked at giving that fifth year to Paul, which given his injury history is not unreasonable. That said, it may have cost them a Hall of Famer in the now.
5. My creative Paul extension idea that will never happen...
If Paul decides to play out the season and go for the "super max" deal, the Rockets are the only team that can give him that fifth season in 2022-2023, which would pay him more than $47 million at age 38. If I'm the Rockets, I TRY to make adding that season into the deal contingent on one thing — Paul must deliver LeBron James in free agency next offseason. So yes, I am making the fifth season essentially a bounty. BOOM. GENIUS. (Daryl, if you need to hire me, you have my number.)
6. The most intriguing part about the Paul-Harden marriage...
To the people worried about the on-court dynamic working between Paul and Harden, because both "have to have the ball in their hands," please stop. You're embarrassing yourselves with your over-analysis. These are two guys whose strengths are sharing the basketball and making teammates better — so you're concerned that they won't make EACH OTHER better? Stop it. I'm most intrigued to see how quickly Paul fills the perceived leadership vacuum that Harden's laid-back "management style" creates. I think the mix of Paul's intensity and Harden's "go with the flow" makes a lot of sense. We will see.
7. What's the list of "untouchables" look like on this team?
Harden and Paul, obviously. Reportedly, Trevor Ariza was a big part of the Paul recruitment as well, and he's on a ridiculously cheap deal (around $8 million) for what he brings. Plus, having his Bird rights for re-signing next season is somewhat essential since the team will be over the cap. If you buy into the frequency that someone is shown in a team video...
...then I'd say Clint Capela is close to untouchable, too. After that, everyone else is fair game.
8. Has there ever been a time when there's been more star power in Houston sports?
DeShaun Watson just sold the fifth largest number of jerseys in the NFL last month. J.J. Watt is J.J. Watt, and Jadeveon Clowney is coming. The Astros are about to get THREE starters in the All-Star Game — George Springer, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve. And now the Rockets have a backcourt that can boast this...
Of the 4 players to make All-NBA 1st Team at least 3 times since 2011-12 season, 2 are now teammates. pic.twitter.com/JUCv1a7cmr— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) June 29, 2017
We are at peak star power right now in this town.
9. NBA free agency predictions
The big question is "Who will be the next Rocket?" I feel almost dirty saying they won't get a third All-Star because Morey has shown he can pull these deals off. But I'll say Paul George is traded to the Celtics after they sign Gordon Hayward. Kyle Lowry becomes a San Antonio Spur. Blake Griffin goes back to L.A. And I'll say that somehow Morey moves Ryan Anderson's deal and brings in Paul Milsap. There we go.
10. Early Rockets 2017-2018 prediction
57-25 and a Game 7 loss in Oakland to Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. Progress.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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