No NBA summer would be complete without a blockbuster trade that shakes up the landscape of the league. This year we've already had two and free agency hasn't even started yet. Today, the Houston Rockets acquired superstar guard Chris Paul from the LA Clippers for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and a 2018 first round pick. This is great for building excitement, but how much does it actually improve the team and their prospects of winning an NBA championship?
The Houston Rockets have made a case for themselves as the best backcourt in basketball. They now have two elite ball-handlers that can take over a game on a dime. Both guards have led efficient offenses as primary facilitators, have been MVP-caliber offensive players, and are masters of the pick-and-roll. On most nights, both of them will be guarded by someone who can't actually guard them. Figuring out how to utilize the duo to their best abilities is a problem most teams would love to have.
The problem is that this trade doesn't solve the fundamental problem the Rockets had when they were eliminated. The Rockets already had an elite offense built around one or two ball-handlers in spread pick-and-roll situations. They were already extremely efficient. Their scheme hasn't changed much and will get predictably stagnant once it's in the high pressure situation of a playoff series. The Rockets have improved their offense marginally, but have hurt their already suspect defense. At this stage in his career, Chris Paul is an inferior defensive player compared to Patrick Beverley. If the goal is to match up with the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, they've hurt their chances immensely. Now their two star players have major assignments on both sides of the floor. You can no longer just send Patrick Beverley to expend all of his energy trying to contain the opponent's best guard.
The next issue that this trade brings up is that the Rockets have lost the depth that helped them maintain their breakneck pace last season. Can 33-year old Chris Paul's knees play at that pace the entire season while bringing that energy on both ends of the floor?
This Rockets team will be very, very good. Some nights, they will look great. But when they face elite teams, they have real holes that are likely to be exploited. This was a high-risk move by Darryl Morey and Paul. Morey broke up his analytics experiment for a chance to pair a couple of stars, despite the clear fit issues. Paul is risking one of the last years of his prime on a team that isn't necessarily built to to complement his strengths and hide his weaknesses. Sometimes, you have to go all in if you want to win it all.