When the Thunder traded fan-favorite Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul, many believed it was a case of swapping bad contracts to kick off a rebuild. However, once Paul started with his new team, everything changed. The Thunder weren’t just competitive; they were good. Now, people wonder what to do with the veteran point guard’s contract. Their best shot might be to stand pat.
The Rockets trade Chris Paul
Chris Paul and James Harden had a complicated relationship during their time together. At best, they were title-contenders who were one injury away from a possible Finals berth in 2018. At their worst, the fragile team could throw away a lead at the drop of a hat. When it became clear that the pair did not jibe, the Rockets got someone Harden was comfortable with.
With both Westbrook and Paul making $40 million a year, Houston struggled to find the suitors to take on such massive deals. However, the Thunder enticed the Rockets to trade for Westbrook’s massive contract while giving away several assets. In the end, the point guards switched teams. And the Thunder received two first-round picks and two first-round swap options for their franchise player.
On top of that, the Thunder acquired a wealth of young talent, like Shai Gilgeous Alexander, in the trade that sent Paul George over to the Clippers. Things looked different for the team that once had a young Kevin Durant alongside Westbrook and Harden. Many believed the young assets were a sign that the Thunder could make waves in the future. Paul, however, had the present in mind.
The Thunder bring it all together
Paul’s talent was never really a question in Houston. However, his questionable fit as a point guard next to Harden, combined with his age made many assume that his best days were behind him. However, back in Oklahoma City, Paul had a role akin to the one he held in New Orleans and LA, according to Sports Illustrated. The same Thunder team wasn’t just a fringe playoff team, but an actual threat.
Although they exited the playoffs, the Thunder gave Paul’s former team, the Rockets, seven hard-fought basketball games. The team had more talent than people gave them credit despite a mix of youthful talent with aging stars like Paul and Danilo Gallinari.
However, what truly helped elevate the Thunder to success was the relationship Paul struck up with young players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Many saw Paul as the leader of the Thunder, and rightfully so. After all, with 15 seasons as a star-caliber player under his belt, he’s seen some things. However, Paul sees his leadership as something he both gives and takes from his teammates.
“Maaaaan,” Paul told ESPN. “Everybody keeps saying, ‘What am I gonna teach him? What is he gonna teach me?” To Gilgeous-Alexander’s credit, he was a major factor in the late moments of the Thunder’s series. While the team lost, the leadership and fearlessness that Gilgeous-Alexander displayed kept the series competitive. This is what Paul takes away from his young teammate.
Paul isn’t likely to be a long-term fit with the Thunder based on age alone. However, whether he is there for one, two, three, or more seasons, he’s not just a placeholder. Even at 35, Paul can be the type of leader that resonates with the youngsters years after he hangs up his cleats for good.