In a surprising development, the NBA’s power-balance has shifted once again.
Chris Paul is no longer a Clipper. He’s been sent off to Houston for a hefty haul that includes seven players–namely Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams–plus a first round pick in 2018.
Houston obviously benefits from this trade. Adding an elite player like Paul is always a victory. Plain and simple. There will certainly be issues for Mike D’Antoni to address, particularly concerning how James Harden will transition to more of a shooting role. But adding Paul, an elite facilitator and superb defender, unequivocally makes the Rockets more formidable.
The Clippers also benefit. Sure, the fact that they suddenly moved on from Paul officially marks the disappointing end to Lob City, an exciting, yet ill-fated era in which these Clippers will go down as one of the more notable “we could’ve, we should’ve, we would’ve!…we didn’t” teams in recent memory.
According to recent reports, however, Paul was destined to leave in free agency anyway. Getting anything in return, let alone a duo of solid guards in Beverley and Williams, as well as first round pick next year, is a win. Assuming Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan remain in town–in the case of Griffin, at least, that’s a big if — the return for Paul assures they will at least be competent next year.
The loser of this trade, though, is the NBA. The Rockets were already one of the five best teams in basketball. Los Angeles, meanwhile, at least had a fighting chance in the West with Paul and Griffin (if only they both could stay healthy when it mattered!). Now, however, the power in the West has become even more concentrated. One contender improves. Another disappears entirely. No new contenders are ultimately created.
There was already a cartel, of sorts, at the top of the Western Conference last season with Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston. Now the gap between those three teams and everyone else is even wider now that the Clippers, once comparable to at least the Rockets, are no longer a safe bet to make the playoffs.
What’s even more disconcerting is that this trade represents an alarming trend in the NBA. It’s not that it’s bad for a player like Paul to move to Houston. It’s actually pretty exciting. The problem, though, is that one great team gets better while another playoff team gets significantly worse. This development came into focus, of course, when Durant left Oklahoma City, effectively removing them from the ranks of elite franchises, and signed with Golden State, making an already spectacular team unstoppable. Again, no new contender was added.
Things could get even worse if–or, rather, when–Paul George leaves Indiana. Say he joins the Cavs, or even the Rockets, as some reports yesterday indicated is possible: Cleveland and Houston would become even stronger contenders…but the Pacers would be forced to reboot. In contrast, if George joins the Lakers, as he’s projected to do at some point, that would be fine! Indiana would still have to go back to the drawing board, but at least the struggling Lakers would be a playoff team again. Thus, the net effect in that scenario is zero, whereas if he left the Pacers for Cleveland, a contender would be reinforced rather than created.
(Of course, it’s not a problem if you come to my Celtics, Paul!)
In simple terms, the Paul trade is indicative of a troublesome trend in which the NBA’s power is being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Now Clippers fans, and soon the Pacers faithful as well, are far less likely to watch meaningful basketball next year and beyond.
Adam Silver shouldn’t interfere with trades, such as this one. But some sort of change to the salary cap is needed to make it more difficult and less enticing for multiple superstars to assemble on the same team.