Rockets acquire Paul, beef up NBA 'weapons race'

Chris Paul will combine with James Harden to give the Houston Rockets two All-Stars, creating a dynamic, powerful backcourt.
Chris Paul will combine with James Harden to give the Houston Rockets two All-Stars, creating a dynamic, powerful backcourt.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • Chris Paul was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday in the first major NBA talent move of the off-season with free agency looming tomorrow.

The 32-year-old point guard, who helped the United States win Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, joins shooting guard James Harden in what might be the NBA's most dynamic backcourt next season.

In exchange, the Clippers received seven players - Sam Dekker, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Wiltjer - plus a 2018 first-round NBA Draft pick and US$661,000 (S$912,000).

Paul opted in for the final year of his US$24.2 million contract, allowing the Clippers to make a sign-and-trade deal with Houston.

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He had faced a Wednesday deadline to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent.

He could have signed a new deal with the Clippers at US$34 million a year had he opted out, but can now sign a five-year, US$205 million maximum extension with the Rockets under salary cap rules.

Paul, obtained by the Clippers in a 2011 trade with New Orleans, is a nine-time All-Star who spent six seasons with each club and has averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists and 2.3 steals over 834 NBA games.

"Any day you can acquire a Hall of Fame-level player is a good day for the franchise," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. "It's a weapons race in the NBA and you're either in the weapons race or on the sidelines.

"We felt with Harden in his prime, Chris Paul in his prime, this gives us a real shot to chase the juggernaut teams that are out there and puts us right there with them."

That is a remark aimed at the Golden State Warriors, who added forward Kevin Durant to star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and won the NBA crown this year.

The Rockets, who won NBA crowns in 1994 and 1995, have not suffered a losing season since 2005-06 but have reached the Western Conference final only once in 20 years, losing that to Golden State in 2015.

"Since winning back-to-back championships, the pursuit of a third title has remained the ultimate goal for our franchise," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said. "We feel that combining two of the league's greatest players in James Harden and Chris Paul, operating in coach (Mike) D'Antoni's system, gives us a championship calibre team that will compete at the highest level for years to come."

The Rockets' odds of winning next year's NBA crown were trimmed from 30-1 to 15-1 after the move was revealed, while dropping the Clippers' chances from 40-1 to 100-1.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Rockets acquire Paul, beef up NBA 'weapons race''. Print Edition | Subscribe