The Houston Rockets will face the Oklahoma City Thunder for Game 1 of their first-round series tomorrow, and we’ve avoided this conversation for far too long.
Let’s begin this by saying that this is a safe space. Here, you can voice your frustrations and anguish — as long as you’re respectable — or you can be positive and look on the bright side. This is your choice, but we would like a dialogue.
Secondly, it’s hard to discuss irony without sounding like it’s coming at someone’s expense, but that’s not what’s happening here. Because the truth is that there’s a lot to this matchup that we should discuss, and it all begins with irony.
It’s been over 13 months since the Rockets traded Chris Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook. Paul, in the 2018-2019 season, looked like a shell of his former self. Unable to stay on the court or even perform in Houston’s offense due to health, they traded for the iron man and former MVP in Westbrook.
Many felt like the Rockets did Chris Paul wrong and threw him to the wayside, often ignoring the fact that they signed him to a monster four-year, $160-million contract, despite the fact that he would have been 37 at the end of those terms. Houston had a chance to go for the younger, healthier, and more athletic guard who’s still in his prime. Paul was sent to a team on the mend and Houston is now competing for a championship.
Fast forward to today, over 13 months later, and Paul is healthy, back as an All-Star, and leading a team of rag-tag young players to the fifth seed in the West and looking poised to upset some Goliaths. On the other end, the Rockets struggled a little out of the gate, waiting patiently as Westbrook got healthy, but made a great push behind their superstars to secure a solid record and the fourth seed.
Oh, and a virus pandemic happened (is happening) somewhere in between.
The Rockets will now face The Old Guard (literally, this is like a triple entendre), as they pit their new guard against them and show him exactly why they traded him away in the first place. Except, a week before the playoffs begin, Houston’s new star guard goes down with a quad strain, and not only is he expected to miss at least the minimum of the start of the playoffs, but there’s no guarantee of a return, and this series is shrouded in irony.
Before I move on, I’d like to point out how clever that “Old Guard” joke was. See, Chris Paul’s style of play is very much the classic (ie. the old guard) point guard style of play, being a savvy, pass-first, defensive-minded type of point guard. Also, he’s a guard, he’s Houston’s previous (or old) point guard, and he’s also older, hence an “old guard.” So, yes it was very funny and worth explaining.
The very thing that Houston traded away Paul for happened to Westbrook. While the Rockets have had the Thunder’s number in the time that Kevin Durant left, they’re going to face the most formidable version of this Oklahoma City team since Durant’s departure, and it’s AFTER the Thunder has gotten rid of their all-time franchise player in Westbrook and given him to the team they’re about to face. The crux of the matter is that OKC wasn’t supposed to be here, Houston was supposed to be better than this, and now without their star guard, the Rockets may not even be that better than their opponent.
Paul also played 58 games each of his two seasons with the Rockets, tying his second-lowest total of his career. He played 70 games with the Thunder in a shortened season. Westbrook played 57 games this, which is one lower than the mark that Paul hit (albeit, still in a shortened season).
That, my friends, is irony.
But, before you sulk further, it’s still a good thing to remind yourself that this was still the best move for Houston. Paul has been very good this year, but he averaged 17.6 points and 6.7 assists, and (maybe I’m the only person who feels this way) got a suspect All-Star nod when he had two other guards on his team putting up equal numbers. Westbrook averaged 27.2 points, 7 assists, and 8 rebounds on 47% shooting, which is literally an MVP season.
Houston didn’t need a savvy, solid point guard. They needed a superstar.
Now, how do you feel about this? Are you angry, or do you understand that things like this happen? Can you appreciate the irony, or do you realize that it sucks because it’s happening to your team? And if Westbrook is out longer than we would hope, do they have enough to take down Oklahoma City?