Add the Houston Rockets to the ever-growing list of teams who have taken gambles that have simply not worked out.
Honestly, it amazes me that it took this long.
When the Rockets originally acquired Paul in a sign-and-trade with the Los Angeles Clippers back during the summer of 2017, I—and many others—immediately questioned the fit.
How could Paul, a floor general who needs the ball in his hands, work with a ball-dominant scorer like Harden? And not just any ball-dominant scorer; the ball-dominant scorer.
Harden is the most ball-dominant player this game has seen this side of Kobe Bryant, and what’s crazy is that Harden averaged more field-goal attempts this season (24.5) than Bryant did in all but one of his seasons.
That’s what made Houston’s 2017-18 campaign, when it won 65 games and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, so perplexing. The pairing was actually effective, and the Rockets seriously looked really, really good.
Fast forward one year later, and things have taken a 180-degree turn, as Paul has apparently become fed up with Harden’s grating style of play and would prefer to play on a team where the rock moves more.
It’s not that the Rockets were terrible this season. They did win 53 games, after all, and had it not been for the Golden State Warriors (like usual), Houston probably would have made it to the finals.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Paul hated how Houston was playing, and it also doesn’t change the fact that the Rockets lost, yet again.
That leads us to this question: was trading for Chris Paul worth it for Houston?
Look: the Rockets took a risk. Lots of contending teams do that to try and get over the hump. Also, at the time, it did not look like Houston had traded all that much to land Paul.
You can’t blame the Rockets for trying to put another star player next to Harden, as they clearly felt Paul could put them over the top, and you know what? He very nearly did, as Houston pushed Golden State to seven games last season, and had Paul not gotten hurt in Game 5 of that series, the outcome may have been different.
But what I can’t understand is why Daryl Morey felt the need to put a ball-dominant player next to a ball-dominant player. The fit was odd right from the very beginning, and if the Rockets really wanted to add another star, they could have explored a different avenue.
Sure, it’s easier said than done, because Paul was available at that time and Morey pounced on what he felt was a golden opportunity, but even Morey, as creative and innovative as he is, had to know that a Harden-Paul duo was questionable.
That being said, any time you can land a star player, it’s almost always worth it.
Morey tried to hit a home run, and the early results were actually pretty positive. The problem was, due to Paul’s age, the Rockets were putting themselves in a box where they basically had to win immediately, or else things would begin to spoil.
Unfortunately for Houston, the worst-case scenario has come to pass.
Paul is now 34 years old, and with a fat contract, any return the Rockets get for him is probably going to be minimal. Houston may even have to sweeten the pot by throwing in some other assets (whatever assets the Rockets have left, anyway).
Not only that, but Harden seems to be alienating his teammates in general, which means that his style of play may not be the way to go going forward.
That doesn’t mean Houston should move Harden, but it does mean that a change of philosophy may be in order.
The Rockets took a big swing and missed. You can’t blame them for trying, but at the same time, you have to wonder exactly what they were thinking to begin with, and if their entire schema needs to change.
And wouldn’t you know it? This has happened as soon as the Warriors’ dynasty ended.
So it goes in Houston.