It has been exactly one week since the Oklahoma City Thunder’s cornerstone icon Russell Westbrook was traded off to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul.
After three consecutive seasons filled with unlimited promise, but lackluster results equaling three postseason wins since the 2015-2016 season, it was understandably time for Sam Presti to pull the plug on OKC’s first era of NBA basketball. The discontent between Westbrook and Paul George with the team’s direction sped up that process, while OKC wanted to run it back and hope for a healthier season. The point is, it was time for a change.
While this trade has caused massive change for both teams, two aspects that haven’t been taken into consideration are the players. Paul and Westbrook are going to be in completely different situations that will test their willingness to change.
In Houston, the offense better fits Westbrook and his style of play, which is fast. But the same question will revolve around Houston’s star backcourt of Westbrook and James Harden, which is the same question that ultimately resulted in Harden being traded in 2012 and Durant leaving OKC high and dry in 2016. Who will deffer? Shouldn’t be Harden. Houston is his city and Westbrook is the new kid. Plus, Harden is easily the better scorer.
Westbrook’s weaknesses are glaring and haven’t changed since he entered the league. He isn’t a good 3-point shooter, his free throw percentage has dipped significantly over the past two seasons, his defense lacks at times and his shot selection late in games can be motivated by his sometimes overconfidence. In his new role with the Rockets, he’ll have to play Robin for the first time in a long time and that won’t be easy for an 11-year perennial all-star.
As for Chris Paul, he’s in a sticky situation. He started his career in Oklahoma City when he was 20 years old and beloved. Now, 12 years after playing in OKC, his reputation is completely different. Seemingly after the 2011 trade to the Los Angeles Lakers that was blocked by former NBA commissioner David Stern, Paul’s demeanor on the court and in the locker room shifted. He’s appeared to become disgruntled and a team cancer.
That was his reputation in Los Angeles when he played for the Clippers, according to a few former teammates and reports surfaced that there was also friction between him and James Harden in Houston as well.
During his time in LA and Houston, he played for competitive teams that were considered NBA title contenders, or close to it. In OKC, he’s in a new position where he’ll be looked at as a mentor. Paul may have an issue sharing the limelight with other superstars, but as OKC’s alpha (right now) will he be secure enough in that to fulfill his role without causing friction or stunting the growth of an up-and-coming roster?
There’s so much change in this trade for four different parties; the Rockets, Thunder, Westbrook, and Paul. Westbrook could be what Houston needs to get past the Western Conference finals threshold that they’ve struggled getting over recently, while Paul could be that talented veteran that wants to lead and teach the next great point guard. For this trade to be successful for both teams, Westbrook and Paul will have to switch up the narrative surrounding their names.