The Thunder build for the future, the Rockets fight for a title now. Who won this trade?
We all knew about the rift between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston. How the two didn't speak for months, their reported argument after game 6 this past season, and a constant feeling that they could not take down Golden State. With Kevin Durant no longer in Golden State, seemingly, the Rockets had the perfect chance to make their first NBA Finals appearance since 1995. But somehow no one really thought that would happen. The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers each made huge moves in the off season, and the Rockets were silent. Until Now.
For the third straight season Westbrook averaged a triple double, this year being 22.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, and 10.7 apg. His time with the ball, and usage has soared since Kevin Durant left the Thunder, but his shooting percentages were down last year. His free throw percentage was a dismal 65.6%. Three point percentage of 29%, and field goal percentage of 42.8%. Westbrook has got to be thinking that he will not get another triple double season in Houston, because he just won't get the ball enough. If he is okay with letting James Harden be the man, then this team is a title contender, but I find that hard to believe.
The Thunder are still haunted every day by the trade that had them send James Harden to the Rockets. OKC was coming off a NBA Finals appearance, in which they had one of the youngest teams to ever make it to the big stage. Harden was 22, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were each 23. Then there was 2013, and 2014, when injuries derailed their Championship dreams. Then the 2016 heartbreak after being ahead three games to one in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Then Durant left for Golden State.
General Manager Sam Presti has done a marvelous job with the Thunder this off season. His team was going nowhere. They were coming off another early playoff exit, this time at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. He first traded Paul George to the Clippers, bringing back five first round picks, along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari. Then they trade Westbrook for Chris Paul, another great point guard, and also receive two first round picks. Yes, I know they are far in the future, and yes, and did shake my head as well when I heard those picks were in 2024 and 2026. But think about it, by that time both Harden and Westbrook will be done, and hopefully for Oklahoma City, Houston will be weak. This is crazy to say, but in about ten years, the Thunder will be a power house (if the NBA is still around in that time). They get all of this, while still staying relevant with Chris Paul as the new face of the team.
The way James Harden and Russell Westbrook play is they control the game. They want the ball in their hands. They want the final shot. They are extremely competitive. I get that they needed a change, but I don't think that this was the right one. My question is, how will Harden and Westbrook deal with playing together? I just don't see it, they both have great skill, and they will be a high seed in the West, but there is about a fifty percent chance that they will completely butt heads, and this trade will be a complete failure. It is a risk the Rockets are willing to take though. They are going all in, tired of being the constant victim of Golden State, and playoff knockout. If it works, kudos to them for having the guts, but my gut feeling tells me that it won't.