Chris Paul has agreed to opt-in with the Clippers in order to facilitate a trade to the Rockets. Here are the winners and losers from this blockbuster deal.
The free agency period always revolves around a few big names. Once those superstars make their decisions the rest of the field gets slotted in around them. Chris Paul was the first big domino to fall, telling the Clippers he intended to sign with the Rockets, before agreeing to opt-in to facilitate a trade.
While questions about how Paul and James Harden will fit together will persist until the moment they prove it can work, this is a big coup for the Rockets. They were able to land one of the top 10 or 15 players in the league without giving up any real core pieces. Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and next year’s first round pick are nice assets but neither asset figured prominently in Houston’s plans to compete for a title during Harden’s prime. Lou Williams played well for them but he didn’t give Houston anything they shouldn’t be able to also get from Paul. The Rockets will miss Beverley’s perimeter defense but the thought is that what they gain from Paul’s offensive efficiency and a fresher Harden should more than make up for it.
The fact that Chris Paul also opted-in to his Clippers deal preserves some flexibility for Houston to make some additional moves. (Maybe even landing Paul George?)
This may not pan out for the Rockets but taking a big swing was probably a necessity if they want to keep pace with the Warriors and it’s hard to envision a deal with as much potential upside for them.
Loser: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs had looked to be the non-Clippers favorite to land Chris Paul until just a few days ago and this throw a big monkey-wrench in their plans. Patty Mills is a free agent, Tony Parker may not be healthy for months and Dejounte Murray, as impressive as he looked at times last season, is still just 20-years-old. David Lee’s contract had already cleared off the books and Pau Gasol had agreed to opt-out to negotiate a new deal that would be more friendly to the Spurs’ cap. That space was all-earmarked for Paul but the Spurs will now need to come up with another plan.
LaMarcus Aldridge is on the trading block and it’s possible the Spurs could still move him and swoop in for a top-end power forward like Paul Millsap or Blake Griffin. Kyle Lowry is a possibility but prying him from the Raptors seems unlikely. If that doesn’t work and that cap space ends up turning into something like Jeff Teague or Danilo Gallinari, the Spurs may find themselves staring up the Western Conference standings at the Rockets next year.
Winner: Blake Griffin
Chris Paul’s situation being resolved quickly would seem to open up more opportunities for Griffin. We don’t really know where he’d prefer to play next season but the way things worked out seems like there is more room for him to make a decision without taking a hit to his reputation. If he returns to the Clippers, he’s sympathetic — sticking to the only NBA team he’s ever known. If he leaves for Miami or Oklahoma City he’s simply escaping a sinking ship. Public perception may not matter to Griffin at all but it seems like he’s freed from quite a bit of potential criticism, regardless of where he goes.
Loser: Los Angeles Clippers
It was a win for the Clippers to get anything in return for Paul when they could have easily lost him for nothing. Sam Dekker and Harrell are nice pieces and Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley should help keep them competitive without sacrificing much future flexibility. However, they’ve clearly taken a step back and even if the re-sign Blake Griffin they’ve probably dropped a tier in the Western Conference.
None of the options right now — max out Blake, try and add Carmelo Anthony, tear it down to the ground — look particularly palatable. This is a team that struggled mightily for more than two decades. There is not an obvious path to them jumping back into the best non-Warriors teams in the Western Conference and a lengthy rebuild should be an uncomfortable proposition. It certainly could be worse, but it might not get better for awhile.
Winner: Chris Paul
Chris Paul get’s the gold medal here. He somehow managed this situation so that he — gets to player for the team he wants to play for, secures some compensation for his former team so he doesn’t look like too much of a jerk, AND he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season which means he could sign the same five-year super max deal with the Rockets if this experiment works, or leave for the Spurs or some other potential contender if it doesn’t.
I believe Michael Scott calls that a win-win-win.