By Lauren Rosenberg
Going into the 2019 NBA offseason, no one expected this to happen. No one expected Paul George to request a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. No one expected Russell Westbrook, of all players, to request a trade from the Thunder. And no one expected Westbrook to actually get traded to the Houston Rockets. But here we are. It happened in one of the most bizarre ways ever.
Folks, Daryl Morey is a genius. He is notable for his bizarre and risky trades and isn’t afraid of taking those chances. This is his 2nd blockbuster trade in 2 years. Just a couple years ago, Morey went all out and traded a plethora of draft picks, defensive-minded starting point guard Patrick Beverly and practically all of their bench depth for future hall of fame point guard Chris Paul. That trade shook up the NBA world. Some called Morey delusional while others praised him for getting a legitimate all-star to pair up with future MVP, James Harden. And it did work. Acquiring Paul lifted a huge burden off of Harden’s shoulders, as he wasn’t carrying the team solely on his back anymore like he was accustomed to. And it paid off. In the 2017-2018 season, Paul’s first with the Rockets, they improved their record from 55-27 and 3rd in the Western Conference to 65-17 and 1st in the Western Conference with 1 win away from making it to the NBA finals for the 1st time since they became world champions in 1995. Harden’s assist average did decline from 11.2 in 16-17 to 8.8 per game, but that’s expected when you get a true point guard. Harden was able to go back to playing shooting guard, his natural position, after having to switch to point guard in 2016-2017. Offensive and defensive efficiency increased and everything was clicking. Harden and Paul truly did work well together.
So what happened? The Rockets were plagued by injuries to Paul. His hamstring in the Game 5 over the Golden State Warriors in the 2017-2018 season impacted the team at the worst time possible. Now, people can blame the referees for awful officiating and missing 9 foul calls against the Warriors. But truthfully, the Rockets should’ve beat the Warriors in Game 7 and reached the finals despite the missed calls. The key to advancing: Chris Paul.
This past season was supposed to be a reboot, with the Rockets ending the Warriors dynasty and advancing to the finals despite losing key players like Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute to the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers respectively. As a result, they experimented with Carmelo Anthony, which failed. The Rockets did acquire Kenneth Farried from the Brooklyn Nets and Austin Rivers after he was traded from the Washington Wizards to the Suns and waived. Danuel House Jr was the surprise underdog player who was called up from the Rio Grande Vipers, the Rockets G-league affiliate, and excelled. Unfortunately, Paul continued to suffer more injuries, but Harden continued to shine. Harden started his 32 game streak of scoring 30 points per game on December 13, 2018, where he scored 50 points and secured a triple-double against the Los Angeles Lakers. During that streak he averaged 41.1 points per game. He went back to his old days and put the team on his back. On February 25th, the Atlanta Hawks shattered his history run when Harden came back from missing one game with a neck injury and scored 28 points. Regardless, that is still incredible.
Paul was the Rockets most important and crucial player in this past postseason, just like last season. He played in all 11 games, but the Rockets just deflated in the 4th quarter, eventually losing in the semis to the Warriors 113-118 at the Toyota Center in Houston in Game 6 on May 10th.
After the loss, there were rumors going around social media that Paul was demanding a trade and that he and Harden were always fighting and had an awful relationship. Daryl Morey was shocked by the news and even stated that Paul never asked or brought up wanting a trade and that he wasn’t getting traded. Paul even debunked the rumor on instagram after Bleacher Report incorrectly reported it. Then comes Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook didn’t demand a trade after the Thunder traded George. He just engaged in civil talks about a potential trade with no timetable and the Thunder were willing to comply. Rockets fans were never fond of Westbrook and didn’t want him in Houston. Even I will admit that I didn’t want him to come to Houston and I’m a fan of Westbrook. After he was traded, I was a bit upset until I saw that his preferred destination was Houston so that he could team up with Harden again. They were teammates for Harden’s first three seasons in the league. After seeing his reasoning, it started to make sense and was seen as a positive move.
Westbrook has the ability to dominate at the basket. His strength and athleticism allows him to move anywhere on the court and dominate. Like Harden, he had to carry the Thunder on his back after the departure of Kevin Durant to the Warriors in 2016. He was deemed selfish and only cared about getting triple-doubles and padding his stats. With the addition to the Rockets and the team up with Harden, Westbrook can shine. In D’antoni’s offense, he will be able to supply the valued offensive need of dynamic playmaking and rim strength which Westbrook provides as a true no. 1. Westbrook is also in his prime. At 31, he has been dominating the game and has shown extreme efficiency. With the aging Chris Paul, 34, and the injury plague, Westbrook will bring a lot more spark to the team which is exactly what Paul did back in his prime. The Rockets gave up a lot when they traded a pair of 1st round picks for 2024 and 2026 and two swap picks for 2021 and 2025. But the Rockets easily won the trade. The Thunder are now officially in rebuild mode and the Rockets are the top team to win the 2020 NBA finals. You can say that the Thunder won because they now have a total of seven 1st round picks which were included in the Paul George trade for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari, and that the Rockets lost because of the play style Westbrook is known for. But, Westbrook will be able to change his style of play for the better with accommodating Harden’s iso style. Westbrook will become more of a team player, especially with a future all-star and developing center like Clint Capela. It will take a bit for the chemistry to be fully equipped and set, but with the already confirmed chemistry between he and Harden, it should be a breeze.
Daryl Morey is a genius. Everyone’s brains are still shattered. The Rockets won the trade. Westbrook is in Houston. The Rockets will dominate the NBA this upcoming season and who knows, maybe they’ll end their 25 year finals appearance and 26 year finals champion drought.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org