With a win last night against the Denver Nuggets, Chris Paul punched his ticket to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in his career and the first time since he helped lead the Rockets there in 2018.
This postseason has definitely been an interesting one for Rockets fans, who are sitting on the couch for the first time since 2012.
With the playoff disappointments from 2018, 2019 and 2020, it might add insult to injury that a Rocket from the past three years is featured on 11 of the 16 playoff teams this season: GM Daryl Morey (Philadelphia), James Harden, Jeff Green, HC Mike D’Antoni (Brooklyn), P.J. Tucker (Milwaukee), Clint Capela (Atlanta), Trevor Ariza (Miami), Russell Westbrook (Washington), Ben McLemore (LA Lakers), DeMarcus Cousins (LA Clippers), Austin Rivers (Denver), Chris Paul (Phoenix).
It also might sting a little more when CP3 might have, could have, just maybe, possibly subtweeted the Rockets in his postgame interview following the Game 4 victory Sunday night.
“A couple of years ago they were writing me off. This ain’t about me. It’s about us.” @CP3 spoke with @ChrisBHaynes after the Suns advanced to the WCF. pic.twitter.com/vI8Pnhyb2k— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 14, 2021
Watching this Suns team gives me major flashbacks from the 2018 team, the best Rockets team that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. The way CP3 manages the floor, the way Booker scores at will like Harden did, the defensive toughness of Jae Crowder that mirrors P.J. Tucker, it’s all reminiscent of that 2018 team.
So, yes, there is part of me that wishes that the Suns were out there wearing Rockets red and a sense of “this should have been the Rockets.”
However, I don’t have the emotional attachment to the Suns that I do with the Rockets simply because I’m a Rockets fan through and through. That isn’t changing anytime soon.
But this spawns another emotion, which poses the question at the title of this piece.
What should Rockets fans make of Chris Paul’s playoff success?
Should we be angry and bitter that CP3 is succeeding with a different team and that he never should have left the Rockets in the first place? Or should we be happy that a guy we used to call our own is performing and succeeding on such a large stage?
Emotions are never an accident. You should never apologize about how you feel and there is no right or wrong answer to this question, but I believe there are a plethora of ways one can feel about CP3 right now.
Some fans choose to grieve about what we once were and how a championship fell out of grasp.
As I told @RooshWilliams some months ago, as Rockets accounts, the fact that we don’t tweet about the CP3 trade HOURLY is an incredible show of discipline and restraint. That’s how crippling and disastrous it was.— TankNinetyFour (@RedNinetyFour) June 13, 2021
They also choose to angle their anger and blame towards specific people on why the CP3-Harden pair broke up.
Hey I have defended Harden for years but you can’t Bill O’Brien the franchise and dip out. @JHarden13 forced out CP3 and brought in Russ then wants to demand a trade to certain teams. He has done a lot but the last few years he also has been part of the problem. #Rockets pic.twitter.com/ofEYNJvy5A— Lachard Binkley (@HTOWN4LIFE40) January 13, 2021
At the end of the day, the milk has spilled all over the floor and it can’t go back into the cereal bowl.
There are a lot of factors as to why Chris Paul was traded from the Rockets and I don’t believe CP3 would have been able to duplicate the same success in Houston after 2018. In 2019, he had taken a step back and when CP3 was dangled in trade proposals, no other teams wanted him.
When Paul says “they were writing him off,” that doesn’t include just James Harden, Daryl Morey and the Rockets, that’s also every other team in the NBA. Zero teams wanted him, but if you ask those same teams now if they would like CP3, I bet some teams would change their minds.
CP3’s post-Houston days are also seen with a chip on his shoulder. He played with one in Houston, but I believe that 2019 season changed Paul’s outlook on his career. He found himself in a new situation in OKC and Phoenix and it likely changed his perspective in how he plays the game. He also changed to a vegan diet in OKC, which has changed his build and affects what he can do on the court. The 36 year-old point guard looks like he could be in the best shape of his career.
Chris Paul doesn’t go to Oklahoma City if Russell Westbrook doesn’t request a trade following Paul George’s request to team up with Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers. The Rockets had to attach picks and swaps to Paul in order for the trade to work.
One of those swaps has a lot riding on it as we approach next week’s NBA Draft Lottery, which is the current reality of the Houston Rockets. The past has been written in Sharpie and there’s nothing we can do to change it. However, the 2018 team is a distant memory for this franchise. It’s a good memory but it has very little to do with where the Rockets are currently. Just Eric Gordon remains from that roster on this current team and it’s possible that his time as a Rocket might be approaching an end very soon.
While we all wish that 2018 team experienced more success than it did, they are now tasked to start developing a team that could be better than the 2018 team. Will the team they eventually build be better than that team? It’s a high bar to get to, but it’s the hope that keeps that spark alive that’s enough for me to move on.