The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, pick swaps in 2021 and 2025, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 12, 2019
ESPN also reports that the 2024 and 2026 picks are top-four protected.
Westbrook reportedly wanted to play with Harden
According to the report, Westbrook wanted to play with his former Thunder teammate James Harden, and OKC general manager Sam Presti worked with Westbrook to make the deal happen.
After years of playoff relevance, the Thunder switched gears to a rebuild this offseason when Paul George asked to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers to join Kawhi Leonard. The Thunder granted the request in a deal that netted multiple first-round draft picks in return.
End of an era in OKC
The George deal signaled the end of an era in Oklahoma City, as it made no sense for a rebuilding franchise to keep an MVP-caliber player on a max deal as it looked to start from scratch. The team that once rostered Kevin Durant, James Harden and Westbrook is now a distant memory.
The move lends credence to reports that there were growing tensions between Paul and Harden, who suffered a second straight playoff exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors this season.
Did Paul, Harden truly not get along?
Paul is one of the great playmakers in the history of the game and often found himself standing idly by on an offense that centered around isolation plays for Harden. That the pair couldn’t lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals and a championship that the franchise so desperately craves proved enough motivation for general manager Daryl Morey to make a major move.
With the Warriors dynasty ostensibly broken up with the departure of Kevin Durant to the Brooklyn Nets and ACL injury to Klay Thompson, the Western Conference finds itself in an entirely new dynamic.
Rockets remain relevant
The Rockets saw an opportunity to make a move to compete with the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and other contenders who hope to take the conference throne the Warriors have held for five consecutive seasons.
How the combination of Harden and Westbrook in the same backcourt will work is yet to be seen. Like Harden, Westbrook is accustomed to having the ball in his hands.
What’s next for Chris Paul?
The deal leaves another major question lingering. What’s the plan for Chris Paul?
A 34-year-old, 14-year veteran with three years and $124 million remaining on his contract is an ill fit for a franchise that’s rebuilding.
According to Wojnarowski, another big deal could be in play that would send Paul to the Miami Heat to play alongside Jimmy Butler.
Houston hoped to find third-team destination preferable to Chris Paul, but ultimately leaves it OKC to execute next step once Presti confers w/ CP3 agent Leon Rose. Miami remains possibility for Paul (3 years, $124M) -- and OKC obviously has picks to incentivize deal, if needed.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 12, 2019
The Thunder own the Heat’s 2021 and 2023 first-round picks that they obtained in the Clippers deal among their stockpile of draft picks, which could potentially be used as a sweetener to entice the Heat to take on Paul’s contract.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported earlier that after “doing right by Russell Westbrook,” the Thunder will “turn their attention to Chris Paul and what he wants,” while noting that Paul played briefly in Oklahoma City at the start of his career when the New Orleans Pelicans temporarily played there after Hurricane Katrina.
But Paul remaining in Oklahoma City seems a bad fit for both parties.
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