The mightiest beast sits atop the Western throne, an already historical force who only grew in strength and title glory with the signing of Kevin Durant. Yes, I’m talking about the Golden State Warriors. But the quest for Western supremacy remains a battle, perhaps more so, as other teams attempt to claim the top spot that many assume belongs to one team.
Chris Paul flocked to James Harden and the Houston Rockets with playoff success on his mind. That pairing could become a devastating offensive factor. In spite of a quiet offseason, the San Antonio Spurs remain a massive threat to conquer the conference. They will be hungry following the hand they were dealt last season in the form of a Kawhi Leonard injury.
It doesn’t end there. Paul George joined the conference after Oklahoma City shocked the NBA with an admirably excellent move, giving Russell Westbrook a fellow superstar. Jimmy Butler all of a sudden has the Minnesota Timberwolves appearing to be a quality squad capable of climbing the ranks. With new stars entering the conference and every team circling the Warriors on its schedule, the West will provide fascinating drama all season.
Let’s break it down with takes from Tyler Birss and Mike Cortez of H&H.
Does Chris Paul turn the Rockets into a legitimate threat to the Warriors and Spurs?
My answer to this question will sound complicated – Chris Paul is both a massive addition for the Houston Rockets, yet his arrival changes almost nothing in the West. Contradictory, I realize, but hear me out. A future Hall of Fame point guard who remains elite, for now fending off father time, is always a major pickup. That’s amplified when joining a 55-win team. But these Golden State Warriors have literally changed everything across the NBA landscape. A singular pickup of a stud is a minor move when comparing it to a 73-win team adding a once-in-a-lifetime talent in Kevin Durant.
Does Paul being in Houston close the gap between them and Golden State? Yes, well, likely yes. But I have legitimate questions about the Paul/James Harden fit. Two ball-centric guards who have had their share of playoff demons are not going to knock out possibly the greatest offensive force in basketball history. It raises Houston’s chances, sure, but those chances are somewhere in the realm of being comparable to me hurling my laptop into the air at this exact moment and landing it in the Pacific Ocean. I played baseball up until eighth grade – that doesn’t mean I’d beat on my chances.
I don’t mean to be glib. Paul and Harden could produce beautiful music in mesmerizing unison under the effective leadership of Mike D’Antoni. That possibility increases Houston’s chances of knocking off the San Antonio Spurs, a legendary franchise who had a surprisingly quiet offseason (one could fairly say it was a poor offseason). The Rockets were close to doing so last season without Paul in the mix.
All that said, I remain supremely confident that every team aside from the Warriors is playing for second or third best. Golden State often seems to relish its chances to play against Paul and Harden. They don’t appear to fear either player. Additionally, Harden has been a no-show of sorts lately in the postseason. He will have to be of Hall-of-Fame caliber to even sniff a chance of defeating Golden State.
And lastly, for all Paul will bring to Houston offensively, how is this team going to stop the Warriors? They did have to sacrifice depth in acquiring Paul, criticisms also pointed towards the Warriors when landing Durant, but Paul clearly doesn’t impact the game overall on both ends like Durant. The Rockets might win 60 games and snag the two-seed – they just won’t reach the Finals no matter what. They have enough to beat the Spurs – having the offensive firepower and defensive identity to dethrone the Warriors is another story.
You add Chris Paul to any team and they become legit contenders. Even if he is past his peak years the Point God is still as good as it gets at running the show. Lost in all the praise of Paul’s accomplishments over his career is the lack of playoff success. As any CP3 stan on Twitter will tell you, that lack of success has a lot to do with his supporting cast. He’s tried the old fashioned way of having big men as his sidekicks but with his window closing he decided to switch it up and attach himself to one of the best guards in the world.
Last season James Harden had a record-breaking season operating as the maestro of Mike D’Antoni’s offense. It was both great to watch and effective as the Rockets beat expectations and snagged a three seed. The good news is Harden is talented enough to be deadly off the ball. With Paul presumably running the show most of the time Harden will be free to find his spots on the floor and set up shop. From there Paul will either feed him at the perfect time or simply give him the ball and allow him to take his guy one-on-one.
By the end of the season I expect the Rockets to be in the top half of the West, but the roster turnover could affect the record. Half of the rotation was traded for Paul and the other half of the roster could still be involved in a potential Carmelo Anthony trade. If Melo does join the fold the Rockets surge past the Spurs (can we get Kawhi some help??) and Thunder as chief threat to the Warriors. Even without Melo the Rockets still pose a decent threat, but are in the same boat as OKC. Two great players surrounded by role players who will have to step up when the time is right.