Less than two weeks into free agency, it appeared the Rockets had swung and missed. They attempted to land Jimmy Butler, who opted for Miami. Even second tier free agents found other homes while the Rockets managed only to retain their own. In one of the craziest offseasons in NBA history, the Rockets appeared to be on the outside looking in.
Then, on Thursday night, the bombshell dropped. The Rockets traded Chris Paul, who was signed to a max three-year deal before last season, to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook, an MVP just two seasons ago and one of the most dynamic guards in the association.
Included in the deal are two future first round draft picks from the Rockets and the right to swap an additional pair of picks. This nearly completes an offseason for OKC in which they went from a team pushing the luxury tax threshold with Westbrook and Paul George to a roster with young players and a boatload of future draft picks. They are expected to deal Paul possibly to Miami to team with Butler, in yet another strange twist in a remarkable NBA summer.
For the Rockets, while the loss of more draft picks could mean struggles in the future, it salvages a summer when they appeared to be the team taking a step back by standing pat. While questions will undoubtedly abound over how James Harden and Westbrook will play together given their penchant for isolation basketball, all indications are the two former teammates orchestrated the trade that brought them back together. It gives the Rockets two of the last three MVPs in their backcourt, certainly the most explosive in the NBA.
As good as Paul was for Houston — he led them to the Western Conference Finals and the best regular season record in franchise history two years ago — he clearly had lost a step this last season. It had been widely reported that he and Harden were bickering about the direction of the offense. And the combination of Paul's age, huge contract and attitude caused his days in Houston to be numbered as the team continued to try and build around Harden.
Westbrook is almost four years younger than Paul with a similar max deal, but he is obviously in his prime as is Harden. Whether or not they can play together remains to be seen, but Westbrook brings another alpha dog onto a team that has gotten its mean streak from role players like P.J. Tucker and Austin Rivers. If nothing else, Westbrook will bring an edge to a team that often needs it given the personality of the mercurial Harden.
Additionally, the move completely alters, yet again this offseason, the postseason picture. More than half of the teams in the NBA have two stars as teammates that were not teammates last season. It's the biggest upheaval of talent in the history of the league.
Until Thursday evening, it looked like the Rockets would be left out of the fun. Now, they have made one of the most intriguing moves of the offseason and paired two of the most dynamic offensive talents in the NBA. Now, we get to see if it works.