Throughout Daryl Morey’s tenure as general manager of the Houston Rockets, he’s abided by a clear, simple game plan: collect talent, and figure out the rest.
But in making the move, Morey is pushing his game plan to the limit, as the fit between Paul and Harden, between Paul and Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni, will be fascinating to watch. It also means something else: the Rockets aren’t done chasing talent this summer.
On the surface, Paul and Harden are an awkward fit. Both pound the ball into the ground – Harden ranked first in time of possession and Paul seventh, per SportVU tracking data – and are used to having complete control of their teams. But that ignores the fact both Paul and Harden have clearly chosen this as the best path forward for each of them.
Harden, who finished as a runner-up for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award for the second time in three seasons, campaigned for Paul to join him in Houston. In turn, Paul could have entered the free agent market and talk to multiple teams when he became a free agent on July 1, perhaps joining the San Antonio Spurs, who could use a point guard. By opting into his deal for next season and facilitating this trade, Paul made it clear he wanted to play for the Rockets – and, specifically, wanted to play with Harden.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains. This feels much more like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James teaming up with the Miami Heat in 2010 than Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors last summer. Durant felt like he was created to play alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green; Wade and James, despite their close friendship, had to learn how to share the ball in order to make their partnership work.
And Paul, famously one of the most hard-driving players in the league when it comes to getting on his teammates, will no doubt be the first one to bark at Harden if he doesn’t play at a much higher level defensively than in the past.
Then there is Paul’s fit within D’Antoni’s pace-and-space system. Paul loves to work out of the mid-range – a shot D’Antoni loathes – and prefers to play at a slower tempo and work the shot clock much more than D’Antoni teams typically do. But that, too, could prove to be a benefit for the Rockets. Anyone who saw how Houston’s offense ground to a halt as its second-round series against the Spurs progressed, who saw how Harden completely ran out of gas, could see that having one eminently predictable way to play – no matter how effective it is – can be figured out over the course of a seven-game series against an elite team.
By adding Paul, Houston has created about as effective of a Plan B as it possibly could, allowing the Rockets to shift to a very different style of play when Harden is off the floor, and keeping an elite ball-handler on the floor for all 48 minutes each night.
But anyone who thinks Morey is satisfied with his team immediately following this trade is fooling themselves. No one is more active, or tries to make more moves, than Morey, who has remarkably gone from the hot seat a year ago to resuming his spot as one of the most secure general managers in the league.
Given how insane this NBA offseason has already been (with the start of free agency still a few days away, no less), Morey has plenty of time, and plenty of reasons, to remain active. The biggest trade piece out there is Paul George, the Indiana Pacers star who has made it clear to management he will not be re-signing with them when he can enter free agency next summer. A Houston package frontlined by Eric Gordon, the newly minted Sixth Man of the Year on a fantastic contract (roughly $13 million over the next three years) – and who played collegiately at Indiana University, to boot – could be enticing to the Pacers.
Plus, if anyone is willing to sacrifice assets for a chance at a star like George without any commitment for the future – believing he can convince said player to stick around – it is Morey. Remember his ethos: collect talent, and then figure out the rest.
Morey did that Wednesday, and now has a backcourt featuring Chris Paul and James Harden.
Finding a way to make that work is a problem 29 other NBA teams would happily be thrilled to have.