Rockets

A Rocket Fan’s Reaction to the CP3-Russ Trade

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Last night, at 8:26pm EST, the basketball world collectively gasped as Woj dropped this bomb:

GM Daryl Morey, who had seemingly decided to take a vacation this offseason, just pulled off one of the craziest trades in recent memory. Pairing former MVP Russell Westbrook with former MVP James Harden will make for a ridiculous amount of star power, but there is truly no telling how the two will mesh.

As a lifelong Houston Rockets fan, and noted Russell Westbrook hater, I went through a wide range of emotions last night. Below, you’ll find a little snippet of the thousands of thoughts that have been racing through my head since the trade went down.

The Twisted Mind of a Confused Houston Rockets Fan

Thought 1:

“What?!?!?”

Thought 2:

“I hate Russell Westbrook.”

Ok, let me be a bit more nuanced here. Since James Harden became a Rocket, the team’s biggest rival has been OKC. From Patrick Beverley injuring Westbrook as he called a timeout, to Carlos Delfino dunking on Kevin Durant*, there is a lot of bad blood between these two teams.

*If you haven’t seen this clip, it’s worth watching on a loop for about an hour:

It goes deeper than just the team rivalry aspect, though. Westbrook officially became my least favorite player in the league when he stole the 2017 MVP award from James Harden as a six-seed. I don’t want to sound like a bitter Rockets fan, but the fact is that I am a bitter Rockets fan. Any attempt to hide that would be a lie. I mean, I am a proud owner of this shirt that Bill Simmons is wearing:

So, yes, I understand that as an objective NBA fan, Westbrook has been one of the most fascinating and fun to watch players in the league. I’ve just never been able to put aside my bias and recognize him as that.

Thought 3:

“Who else did we trade?”

When I first saw Woj’s original tweet, I kind of blacked out for a minute and put my phone down. I knew I saw Chris Paul’s name, but that couldn’t have been the only player in the trade – right?

Before the start of last season, Chris Paul signed this massive contract extension. Currently at 34 years old, Paul has already shown significant signs of aging. Other than maybe John Wall, he had the single most un-tradeable contract in the league. It is nothing short of a miracle that Morey was able to find a team to take him off the Rockets’ payroll.

Thought 4:

“Wait – we only traded Chris Paul?”

And it is an even bigger miracle that the Rockets didn’t have to trade anyone else besides Paul. Yes, yes, I know that there are two first round picks and two pick swaps included in the deal. However, the Rockets have traded their first round pick almost every year. The last time they selected a player in the first round was Clint Capela in 2014. While I’m not necessarily saying that that’s a good strategy, it is worth noting to show that holding on to first round picks has never been a priority for the Rockets.

When the trade was announced, I assumed that someone else would be shipped off along with Paul. Whether that be Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, or even someone like Austin Rivers, I would have been extraordinarily disappointed. Gutting the roster for Westbrook would have been a mistake. Simply trading point guard for point guard, though, sits considerably better with me.

Thought 5:

“Wow, this is a horrible fit.”

For years, the Rockets have made it a point to shoot as many threes as humanly possible. Westbrook, though, is just a 30% three-point shooter for his career. Throughout NBA history, there have been 127 players who have attempted at least 2500 three-pointers in their career. Westbrook has the worst percentage out of that group.

Chris Paul shoots significantly better from three than Westbrook, and was more equipped to be a spot up shooter from time to time. If Harden couldn’t find anything in isolation, kicking it out to Paul on the perimeter late in the shot clock was never a bad option. With Westbrook, though, that is simply not going to work. Westbrook’s poor shooting will force the Rockets to change the way that they run the offense.

Thought 6:

“I trust Harden.”

This has not been reported, but there is no scenario in which Harden, along with Morey of course, did not orchestrate this trade. James Harden is the star of the Rockets; everything the team does goes through him first. While he has not reached the LeBron status of handpicking every single role player, he certainly has considerable input in major moves like this.

Harden and Westbrook were former teammates. While they have both become different players since that point, they have remained close. Here is a clip of Harden keeping Westbrook company at All-Star Game warmups during the peak of the Westbrook-Durant rivalry:

The fact that this trade was made indicates that Harden is confident that he can play alongside Westbrook. Yes, the Rockets will have to alter their playing style in order to efficiently integrate Westbrook, but I trust that the two old friends will find a way to work well together.

Thought 7:

“Wow this team will be a nightmare to watch.”

We’ve gone through an interesting transition here. Last year, the Rockets were generally hated by most fans and deemed “unwatchable” due to Harden’s excessive dribbling and free throws. This year, though, they will be must-see TV for the common fan. Finding out how Harden and Westbrook will work together will be one of the more exciting storylines of the NBA season.

For Rockets fans, though, it almost goes the other way. Last year was one of the more fun experiences I’ve had as a Rockets fan. Harden’s thirty-point streak was awe-inspiring and an absolute joy to watch. Right now, though, I am absolutely dreading the prospect of having to watch and root for Westbrook. I can already imagine feeling sick after seeing him throw up contested long two after contested long two.

Additionally, the Rockets already turn it over far too much. Add Westbrook to that mix, and the Rockets will certainly become the most turnover-prone team in the league. Maybe in league history.

Yes, I am cautiously excited to see what happens when the season starts. But I am simultaneously terrified to watch this team try and navigate their way though a close fourth quarter.

Thought 8:

“This does not move the needle enough.”

Russell Westbrook is a better player than Chris Paul. There’s no denying that.

However, Chris Paul is a high basketball IQ guy. I understand and recognize that his overall impact has dropped recently, but there is no denying that he has remained committed to always making the best basketball play. Westbrook, on the other hand, relies more on athleticism than anything else. Making the right play often takes a backseat to making the most explosive play.

While the Warriors may have lost Durant to free agency and Klay Thompson to injury (at least for the foreseeable future), the Western Conference is suddenly even more loaded than it ever has been. The Westbrook-Harden pairing is up there with the other elite duos, but it’s hard to say whether or not they’ll be enough together to get the Rockets over the hump.

Thought 9:

“…On the other hand…”

Russell Westbrook is a better player than Chris Paul. There’s no denying that.

As much as I have against Westbrook, he has averaged a triple double for three straight seasons now. He is certainly a top ten player in the league, and is a consistent nightmare matchup for opposing defenses. Pairing him with Harden makes for one of the most talented backcourts in league history. The Rockets will now come into next season rostering two of the last three MVPs of the league.

Daryl Morey has long held the thought process that the more star players on the roster, the better. Thinking about team chemistry comes second. The Rockets now have two unquestioned superstars. Come playoff time, Westbrook will be able to take on a far bigger load than Paul ever could; at the very least, the Rockets will be the team no one wants to face in April and May (and hopefully June).

Thought 10:

“What does this mean for Eric Gordon?”

Eric Gordon has proven himself to be one of the most irreplaceable players on the Houston Rockets over recent years. He has averaged over 3.2 three-pointers per game since joining the team, and has also established himself as a solid perimeter defender. More so than that, though, Gordon is at his best when he attacks the rim.

He is deceivingly explosive, and can blow by defenses just as easily as anyone else in the league. With Westbrook, though, I worry that Gordon will have to become strictly a spot up shooter. As Westbrook and Harden dominate the ball, I can envision a scenario in which Gordon is stranded on the perimeter simply waiting to get passed too.

While Gordon is a good three-point shooter, he is also wildly inconsistent. And when he starts missing, he gets extremely frustrated and almost checks out of the game mentally. Often, the only way for him to break out of his slumps is for him to stop shooting and attack the basket for consecutive possessions. Trading away Chris Paul – someone whose biggest skill may have been his ability to ensure that his teammates were always getting opportunities – may limit Eric Gordon’s overall impact next season.

Thought 11:

“Harden can finally rest!”

Above all else, this trade can be positive in the sense that James Harden will get a legitimate co-star next year. The Rockets traded for Chris Paul to allow Harden to rest more and take possessions off, but that seemed to backfire as Paul was always dealing with an injury. Harden had to up his usage rate because Paul suddenly became too old and tired to run the offense as much as he was originally supposed to.

This ESPN stat above can be read as a bad thing to a lot of fans and media members. There’s only one ball, how can they possibly share it???

In my eyes, I love it. Finally, the Rockets have another player who is comfortable handling the ball and leading a team. Last year, Harden had an unbelievable offensive year – putting up 36.1 points per game. It was an incredible achievement, but it was not a sustainable way to build toward a championship. James Harden last year was fun, but the Rockets do not need him to be that type of player to win. With Westbrook, defenses will not be able to key in on Harden come playoff time the way that they have been able to in recent years.

There will certainly be a huge learning curve for the Rockets next year. Getting Harden and Westbrook to work well together will not be easy. But the Rockets were never going to get over the hump in the now loaded Western Conference with the way that the roster was previously shaped. In a conference full of star duos, having just Harden – with players revolving around him – would not have been enough.

Now with another superstar on the roster, the Rockets have a far greater chance to succeed. It will not be pretty at first, but there is no defense that can effectively shut down both Harden and Westbrook at the same time.

Thought 12:

“I am going to have to delete a lot of texts and comments.”

I have been a Rockets fan for a long time, and there has not been a player I have so singularly bashed on more than Russell Westbrook. Here is one such example:

Since the trade occurred, I have already received an outrageous number of screenshots of things I’ve said about Russell Westbrook. This season will be a tough road for all Rockets fans in that respect, having to deal with supporting Westbrook while simultaneously trying to downplay our old thoughts about him.

All Cards on the Table Now

As reported by Royce Young, Russell Westbrook wants to be in Houston. James Harden, though not officially reported, signed off on this trade as well. These two former teammates wanted to reunite with each other and Daryl Morey made it happen. Now it’s up to them, along with Coach D’Antoni, to figure out a way to make it work. If the Rockets’ championship window had closed after last season with the fractured relationship between Paul and Harden, it is now safe to say that it has officially reopened.

This should be fun.

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About Zach Zola

Zach Zola is a student at Brown University studying English. He grew up in New York, but has been a die-hard Rockets fan since the days of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He believes that James Harden is the only King James in the NBA.

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