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Culture / Sporting Life

Chris Paul Finally Gives James Harden a Conscience

Only Giving Up Overrated Patrick Beverley Makes Trade a No-Brainer Heist for Morey

BY // 06.28.17

James Harden finally has an angel looking over his shoulder. OK, it may not be an angel. This will be snarling, screaming force that’s often in his face. Chris Paul is coming — and Harden will no doubt often think Paul’s the devil. And that’s a beautiful thing.

For as disjointed as Daryl Morey’s secret master plan looks on this late June afternoon — trading for Paul doesn’t get the Houston Rockets any closer to challenging the Golden State Warriors unless Morey can somehow also add Paul George and even then, they’re not quite there — one thing is immediately certain. James Harden finally has a conscience.

It comes in the form of a 32-year-old, past-his-prime All-Star point guard notorious for screaming at his teammates and being difficult to play with. Chris Paul always demands more. And that’s just what Harden needs. For too long, Harden’s been coddled and cocooned in soft love by a Rockets organization’s seemingly just grateful that it has one real superstar.

Morey has made so many excuses for Harden’s inexcusable Game 6 No Show against a wounded San Antonio Spurs team that it’s a wonder that the general manager’s nose isn’t Pinocchio sized by now. You can be certain that Paul will offer no such teddy bear love if Harden ever comes up that small in the playoffs again.

Harden, the type of uber talent who always seem to be making news for zoning out (see his admiring stare at Nicki Minaj during the NBA Awards Show Monday night), needs someone like Paul to hold him accountable. The two stars reportedly talked about a potential partnership in the past before Morey’s trade bomb came out Wednesday, and are both all for it.

Good for Harden — even if he has no idea what he’s really getting into.

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Chris Paul’s Rockets Contract Leverage

Paul is a taskmaster, a 32-year-old with the disposition of an ornery grandfather who’s been denied an early supper. He made Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s lives miserable at time with the Los Angeles Clippers. And there’s no good reason for him to be any less demanding with the NBA MVP runner-up.

Chris Paul isn’t just basketball famous. He’s commercial famous. Even the most casual of sports fans know who Chris Paul is. State Farm goes a long way. Now, the Rockets suddenly have two of the 10 most recognizable players in the NBA. That’s great for owner Leslie Alexander’s bottom line and ticket sales. It also gives Paul more leverage than the current state of his game might indicate he should have.

The Rockets are set to sign Paul to a five-year, $205 million extension after this next season (which Paul will play for $24.2 million in after opting in on the final year of his current Clippers deal in order to be able to make this trade happen). He’ll have plenty of power in the organization and won’t have to live in fear of offending James Harden. That’s good for Harden. He needs Paul’s conscience. He needs to be pushed out of his protected superstar comfort zone.

The trade itself is a no brainer. Morey only had to give up the eternally overrated Patrick Beverley, last season’s rental Lou Williams, fringe forwards Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, and a 2018 first round draft pick that should be in the late twenties to give the Rockets their first real point guard since Jeremy Lin. Paul figures to instantly make Clint Capela even more dangerous. And as that Game 6 in Utah this April showed, Paul can still steal a game in a playoff series.

No, this older Paul isn’t a perfect fit for coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense or the Rockets’ 3-pointer-or-dunk organizational philosophy. Paul is a long way from being the supersonic demon who zoomed through the ACC at Wake Forest. He doesn’t actually play that fast anymore, certainly not as fast as D’Antoni wants to play. And he really enjoys his mid-range jumpers.

Dallas rookie Dennis Smith Jr. isn’t anywhere close to as famous as Chris Paul. But he may be more exciting to watch over the next five years.

It’s not even a stretch to suggest that you’d rather have the next six years of Dennis Smith Jr. — the incredibly athletic point guard the Dallas Mavericks stole with the ninth pick in the NBA Draft — than the next six years of Chris Paul. Smith Jr. will be more fun to watch (assuming Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle doesn’t drain the joy out of him before Mark Cuban inevitably fires Carlisle). But these Rockets of Alexander and Morey were never going to be in position to snag a Dennis Smith Jr. in the NBA Draft. They had to take a swing now.

D’Antoni is one of the most innovative coaches in basketball history — and still perhaps Alexander’s greatest single move ever. The reigning NBA Coach of the Year will find a way to make Paul and Harden work offensively. Besides James Harden was never really a point guard. Even as D’Antoni pushed The Beard for MVP, he knew that.

The Rockets finally have a real point guard again. James Harden finally has a conscience. It’s a good day in Houston.

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