You must heard all the chatter regarding Chris Paul’s eligibility to sign a four year contract worth close to $200 million following his move from Los Angeles Clippers to Houston Rockets.
Irrespective of his career decision, Paul will turn 33 when the Rockets are inevitably battling in this season’s playoffs.
While most managers and fans cringe at the thought of handing a big sum of money to a mid 30’s player, Cleveland Cavaliers Forward LeBron James, a friend of Paul’s, is defeating that chain of thought with outstanding production this season.
Commenting on his super season thus far, James opined his intent is to let players know they can play well into their latter 30’s and command major salaries. This is the exact spot Paul and Houston management led by General Manager Darryl Morey are in and whatever the outcome, it will be decisive on the team’s future.
Per his play this season-17.1 points and nine rebounds- signing the former New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans Guard shouldn’t be difficult.
However, such lucrative offers are ideally handed to players who can stay fit and produce; Paul doesn’t possess the latter at this point in his career following successive injuries in recent years. In the heat of the season such deals are most likely to be sorted out in the offseason paving the way for the team to figure out what is hurting them in a four game losing streak. Far removed from what it was at the start of the season, Rockets are failing badly in its attempts to lead the Western Conference regular season standings.
By dropping games to lowly ranked opponents Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers respectively and higher ranked teams like Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston has been overrun by defending champions Golden State Warriors for first place. The striking thing about Rockets bad run is the absence of Paul; after dealing with knee injuries at the start of the season, Paul returned to the team and were unbeatable clinching 14 wins. His neat threaded passes to find teammates were key to overwhelming opposing team second units.
Coach Mike D’ Antoni has staggered Paul’s minutes meaning the “Point God” usually has a lengthy time on the court against players way below his All Star caliber group he has faced throughout his career. The down side of not having Paul around is a return to the bad Houston Rockets habits of old. Bad habits in Houston mean having James Harden dominate the ball while playing heavy minutes on isolation plays and little ball movement. This type of play makes it far easier to contain Houston’s offense as Celtics Guard Marcus Smart showed by summoning his strength to force Harden to shoot the ball poorly.
Despite ending the game with 34 points and 10 rebounds, the Beard converted seven of 27 field goal attempts and five of 15 three point attempts with Smart as the primary defender for long stretches. Rockets lost 98-99 as Harden got called for offensive fouls (twice) in the final seconds of the game. Aside his ability to make matters easier on the offensive side with his range of passing and shot selection, Paul balances it out with equal brilliance on the defensive end as his seven All NBA First Team Honors highlight.
Excelling as the first point of defense has transformed Houston’s once leaky defense to a top 10 unit; veteran signees PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah Moute have contributed immensely to the achievement. With Paul out of the lineup, Harden’s legendary struggles on defense have resurfaced making him an easy target to get picked on by opponents. After close losses to Clippers and Lakers, Rockets lost to Celtics despite leading by 26 points in the game; playing Harden and Eric Gordon in the back court isn’t the best pairing to get stops.
During his six year run with the Clippers, Paul and the team became one of the most loathed by referees as a result of constant nagging and yapping about calls. While he wasn’t available to face his former side, Harden had a lot to say about officiating in the game’s final minutes after the loss. In Boston, he was at it again blasting the two man official team for offensive fouls called against him.
While he nurses his latest injury, Chris Paul’s six month run with Houston Rockets is affecting the team both ways but unlike most teams in the league the good news for Houston is the time it has to do away with the bad traits and improve on good areas.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter