Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is arguably the brashest executive in the NBA. He’s go-big or go-home to the max. Yes, his Rockets were arguably the second or third best team in the NBA these past two seasons and now that the Warriors are ready to take a step back a championship title should seem within reach for Houston. But Morey must deal with the fact that Chris Paul is now firmly on the Back-9, and that several new Western Conference powers are about to emerge (Lakers, Clippers - if Kawhi lands in LA, and even Utah).
Morey stated this week that he intends to keep Chris Paul despite reported friction between CP3 and James Harden. But this is likely posturing.
The Rockets let it be known to the rest of the league last month that they are open to trading any player on their roster. One way or another, it would be a stunner if the Rockets did not make a sizable trade this summer. To legally bet now on sports go to MetroBet.us/Sugar and you can receive up to $250 in a free deposit match bonus.
The problem, of course, with trading Paul is his absurdly massive contract. He will earn $38.5 million next season, $41.3 million in 2020-21 and $44.2 million in 2021-22. A team trading for Paul would have to be a team looking to legitimately compete for a championship in the next two years, and a team that can absorb his contract.
The only two teams that really make sense for a Paul deal are the Lakers and Sixers. The Lakers will always be linked to Paul so long as LeBron is in purple and gold, and they have another max slot to fill. That said, conventional wisdom says that Rob Pelinka should pass. The Lakers should not want to have two players on the wrong side of 30 tying up the majority of their cap space well into the early portion of the 2020s.
If the Lakers strike out elsewhere in trying to get LeBron and Anthony Davis a No. 3, they could eventually turn to the Rockets if this thing drags out into late July or even into August.
The Sixers also represent an interesting landing spot for Paul. Paul is exactly the type of point guard that Philadelphia needs, and he would give the Sixers considerable veteran experience for those potential deep playoff runs.
One way this could go down is if the Rockets and Sixers were able to complete a complicated sign-and-trade involving Jimmy Butler. The Ringer’s Danny Chau recently wrote about this possibility.
“We could find out just how intent the Rockets are on acquiring Jimmy Butler during free agency, depending on the types of moves they make or don’t make,” Chau wrote. “Butler could find his way to Houston the way Chris did two years ago—by strong-arming a trade after opting into the final year of his contract. While it was reported last week that Butler intended to decline his player option to become an unrestricted free agent, there is still time for him to renege; two years ago, Paul informed the Clippers that he would decline his player option, only to opt to facilitate the trade he demanded less than a week later. Daryl Morey could go down that same path, but may very well find other avenues of creating cap space to facilitate the long-coveted star.”
One has to wonder if relatively new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta will continue to allow Morey to dip into the luxury tax. So far, the big-spending approach in Houston (which included adding Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams in free agency last year) has proved fruitless.
Another route the Rockets could go in is a rebuild on the fly. More than any other GM, Morey treats players like stocks – and you would be hard-pressed to find an NBA player right now with a higher stock than Harden. The return that the Rockets could get back on a Harden trade would be massive.
The Celtics immediately come to mind as a team that Morey would be interested in doing business with. Danny Ainge is clearing a ton of cap space as Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Aron Baynes will all likely be elsewhere when next season begins. They would be one of the few teams in the league that not only would be able to absorb Harden’s contract but also give Morey legitimate assets that he could rebuild on the fly with. A package centered around Jayson Tatum and the Celtics-owned Memphis Grizzlies pick (which will be unprotected in 2021) would at least get the conversation started.
The Knicks could also look to do something drastic like overwhelm the Rockets will their assets if they are unable to land any other big fish in free agency. There is immense pressure on Scott Perry to make noise this summer, but the way things are falling right now (Irving leaning toward the Nets, the Durant injury) – it’s not looking good in New York.
All told, a Harden trade remains unlikely. But the window has been opened a crack due to all the various player movement in the NBA and the Rockets nucleus of Paul and Harden reportedly not getting along.