Insofar as it involves two stars bound for the Hall of Fame and featured on perennial playoff teams, the trade with Russell Westbrook going to Houston and Chris Paul to Oklahoma City is, on paper, of significant magnitude.
As in, wow, quite the blockbuster. The NBA does it again. This league stays ablaze.
But after stripping the veneer of gravity that comes with marquee names, it’s fair to question if there really is much consequence to such a deal, first reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. And it’s reasonable to conclude it is not.
Which means, for the Warriors and other Western Conference contenders, the balance of power remains basically where it was before the trade.
Both Paul and Westbrook have given every indication of being past their peaks, even if vanity won’t allow for acceptance.
The Thunder gain in Paul a man whose prime spanned his final four seasons with the New Orleans Hornets (2007-11) and first four with the Los Angeles Clippers (2011-15). High-maintenance and often grouchy, CP3 was, for most of those seasons, the best pure point guard in the NBA.
He also played all 82 games in 2014-15 but has since averaged 63, the totals over the last four seasons declining from 74 to 61 to 58 and 58. He can’t be expected to reverse that trend.
It must be noted, too, that Paul was the “leader” of those talented Clippers teams under Doc Rivers that never advanced beyond the second round -- the worst being the epic collapse in 2015 when they botched a three-games-to-one lead over Houston in the Western Conference semifinals.
Obtaining Paul at this stage of his career is, for OKC, mostly about snagging two more first-round picks (2024 and 2026) at a time when James Harden and Westbrook will be in their mid- and late-30s, if on the Houston roster at all.
The Thunder win the deal because they get those picks while dumping Westbrook, who is owed roughly $170 million over the next four seasons, while Paul is signed for roughly $125 over the next three. Paul will be easier to move, should it come to that, as it probably will.
OKC takes another step toward a rebuild that was initiated a few days ago with the massive haul received in trading Paul George to the Clippers. The Thunder has been a first-round out in the three seasons since Kevin Durant left in 2016 and now the playoffs are out of view.
The Rockets now get to figure out, once again, how to get the most out of two ball-dominant players. The Harden-Paul duo was not a rousing success, and it’s hard to imagine the Harden-Westbrook duo being much more prosperous.
There was a time when Harden and Westbrook were a devastating combination, two basketball outlaws that, along with Kevin Durant, appeared capable of owning the NBA for the next five or six seasons. That core, along with young Serge Ibaka, took the Thunder to the NBA Finals.
That was in 2012, when all three were under 24 and simply not ready for the experience and ruthlessness of the Miami Heat team featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Thunder lost in five and have not been back.
The Rockets are hoping Harden-Westbrook will be better than Harden-Paul, and it should be. Westbrook can do more things, more effectively, than Paul. Russ can take over a game, racking up statistics Paul can imagine amassing.
But the needle registering Houston’s chances of winning a championship barely budge with this deal. The Rockets remain a playoff team, as they likely would have been with Paul, with a chance maybe to gain a spot in the seeding.
The one thing we know for sure is that the Rockets will be more fun to watch, for reasons good and bad, than the Thunder. And the front office in OKC won’t mind at all.