LOS ANGELES, United States—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 Saturday.
The 32-year-old point guard, who helped the United States win Olympic gold in 2008 at Beijing and 2012 at London, joins shooting guard James Harden in what might be the NBA’s most dynamic backcourt next season.
In exchange, the Rockets sent the Clippers 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 $661,000.
“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’s 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, downing a Cleveland team in the final led by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
While players and teams can begin free agency talks, no deals can be signed until July 6.
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 eventual champion 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 caliber team that will compete at the highest level for years to come.”
Las Vegas oddsmakers trimmed the Rockets’ odds of winning next year’s NBA crown from 30-1 to 15-1 after the move was revealed while dropping the Clippers’ chances from 40-1 to 100-1.
ESPN reported the Rockets would attempt to land forward Paul George, who has said he wants to leave Indiana and is being eyed by the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland among others.
Paul thanked the Clippers’ organization and fans on his Twitter page.
“Unbelievable amount of emotions right now – I don’t even know what to say,” Paul wrote. “Lots of love and tears. I’m so blessed and thankful for the ability to play this game, this is the part that no one can prepare you for.”
Paul agreed to opt in for the final year of his $24.2 million contract, allowing the Clippers to make a sign-and-trade deal with the Rockets. Paul faced a Wednesday deadline to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent.
Paul could have signed a new deal with the Clippers at $34 million a year had he opted out, but can now sign a five-year, $205 million maximum extension with the Rockets under NBA salary cap rules.
“When friends of mine are happy then I’m equally as happy for them. Congrats to my brother CP3 on choosing his own direction,” tweeted Chicago guard Dwyane Wade.
“My brother off to a new journey!” tweeted James. “Best of luck @CP3!! H-Town y’all got a great one coming to your city.”
Paul and Harden reportedly discussed the possibility of a partnership at length and hope to ignite the Rockets, who went 55-27 last season but lost to San Antonio in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
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.
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