Does Chris Paul Trade Make Rockets NBA Finals Contenders?

By Taylor Smith
Published on June 28, 2017
Houston Rockets Logo and Chris Paul

The New York Knicks decided to fire president Phil Jackson on Wednesday morning, and that wasn’t even the biggest NBA news to hit before noon. In quite the shocking development, the Los Angeles Clippers traded All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and a 2018 first-round pick.

With the Golden State Warriors’ potential dynasty completely looming over the league, the other 29 teams have been left to try and do whatever it takes to dethrone them. The Rockets won 55 games last season and finished with the third-best record in the Western Conference, but wound up falling in the second round of the playoffs to the San Antonio Spurs.

Are the Rockets Viable Contenders?

That’s the question. Houston surpassed all expectations last season using James Harden as a point guard in a fast-paced offense that shot more three-pointers than any team in the history of the league. They were going to be one of the best teams in the conference again next season if they kept the team together, but the Warriors have forced GM Daryl Morey to get aggressive.

So, he did.

Head coach Mike D’Antoni now has a couple of generational point guards at his disposal on the same roster. Now, the Rockets will be able to have an upper-echelon playmaker on the floor at all times. In addition to the Rockets, the Warriors and (maybe) the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently capable of doing so.

Morey’s job isn’t done. The Rockets will still need to fill out the rest of the roster. As of now, Paul and Harden are surrounded by Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson and a few other bench pieces. Nene may well re-sign as a free agent this summer, which should be enough firepower at the center spot. Assuming Morey isn’t able to land another star in a trade or as a free agent, he’ll be tasked with adding veterans on the cheap.

BetOnline currently has the Rockets listed at +1600 to win the NBA title next season. They clearly haven’t updated them since news of this trade broke, and one would imagine that number will creep closer to +1000. This should also negatively impact the odds of the Warriors, though they will remain huge favorites to make it three titles in four years next season.

It all really depends on what else the Rockets do to fortify the roster. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Wednesday that the team is still aggressively pursuing Indiana’s Paul George, but it’s tough to imagine the Rockets having enough assets to swing that deal. They also won’t have a ton of available cap space this summer to add another star via free agency.

West is Still Loaded

The Rockets became the first western power to land a huge punch this summer, but it’s not like teams like the Spurs are just going to sit idly by and do nothing. San Antonio is reportedly aggressively dangling the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green in trade talks in an attempt to upgrade their own roster. They also reportedly had interest in pursuing CP3 as a free agent, but they’ll obviously now have to go in another direction if they plan to upgrade over Tony Parker at the point guard spot.

Derrick Rose and Kyle Lowry are a couple of other names that have been linked to the Spurs, though there’s no telling whether they’ll actually be able to land either player. The Warriors also have work to do themselves. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston may both leave this summer as free agents. Golden State can keep both, as well, but they won’t come cheap. If one or both of them depart, Bob Myers will have a tough time replacing that production given the financial limitations Golden State is about to face.

It’s also a big summer for the Utah Jazz. Gordon Hayward is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and he’s expected to be one of the more sought-after names on the market. Utah would prefer to keep him, of course, but teams like the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have reportedly already registered interest in adding the swingman. If Hayward leaves for the east coast, the Jazz will likely take a huge step back next season.

As for the Clippers, we also have no clue what they’re going to look like. They did well to replace CP3 with guys like Beverley, Williams and Dekker, but…they still lost Chris Paul. Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick may also leave as free agents. Griffin still feels likely to re-up with the Clippers, but Redick is almost certainly out the door. They should still have enough talent to stay in the Western Conference playoff picture if Griffin returns, but are they in that upper-tier that includes Golden State, San Antonio and Houston? Doubtful. The Clips are listed at +8000, and those odds may go up before long.

Teams like the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Nuggets and Trail Blazers may all be in the mix, but all five are also complete wild cards heading into next season. Most expect Minnesota to leap into the playoffs now that they’ve acquired Jimmy Butler, but it’s far from a guarantee with so many other high-quality teams in the conference.

Houston will be one of the top dogs in the west next season, but it’s not going to be some cakewalk. There is still plenty standing in between they and the Warriors.

Can Houston Get to the Finals?

While the Cleveland Cavaliers were crushed by Golden State in the Finals, at least they can say they made it to the NBA Finals for a third consecutive year. While fellow Eastern Conference clubs are jockeying to overthrow LeBron James and the Cavs, Cleveland still has the easiest path of any team in the league to the Finals right now.

Out West, all roads still run through Oakland. Even if the Warriors do lose guys like Iguodala and Livingston this summer, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’re still going to be rolling out a top-four of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. CP3 and James Harden is a start, but the talent discrepancy between the Rockets and Warriors at the top is still fairly wide.

Still, Morey wasn’t standing at the plate willing to take a walk. He’s swinging for the fences here. He has a superstar in his prime in Harden, and he’s not going to let the juggernaut in the Bay Area keep him from trying to build a viable contender. The Rockets were already an interesting matchup for the Warriors last season given their shooting and nonstop offensive firepower. Now, teams will have to worry about Houston’s shooting and try and deal with two of the three best pick-and-roll ball-handlers in the game playing alongside one another.

Will it be enough to get Houston to the Finals? There’s no telling. One thing, however, is pretty obvious: the Rockets were not going to beat the Warriors the way they were constructed before this trade. We have no idea how the Harden/Paul fit will actually look on the court, but talent has a way of reigning supreme in the NBA. Morey is aggressively trying to build the best possible team he can. If it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out. Still, there’s very little risk in losing a few pieces from a team that wasn’t good enough to truly contend in the first place.

We’ll have to see what else Morey and the Rockets have up their sleeve this summer before we go out there and proclaim that the Warriors should be shaking in their boots about this. Golden State may have the best roster in the history of the league right now, but Houston is working on closing that gap.

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