Russell Westbrook and James Harden are together again, and Chris Paul is leaving Houston to make that reunion happen.
A person with knowledge of the situation says the Oklahoma City Thunder have traded Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Paul in a swapping of top point guards. The Thunder also are getting first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, plus the right to swap first-rounders in two other seasons, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because the trade has not been announced.
ESPN first reported the agreement.
Paul is a nine-time All-Star, Westbrook an eight-time selection. Paul has 9,181 career assists, the most among active players. Westbrook has 138 triple-doubles, tied with Magic Johnson for second-most in NBA history behind only Oscar Robertson’s 181. Both members of Houston’s new glitzy backcourt are recent MVPs: Westbrook won it in 2017, Harden won it in 2018. And the trade means that the NBA’s two highest scorers over the last five seasons — Harden with 11,958 points, Westbrook with 10,025 — are now teammates.
Paul played in Oklahoma City before Westbrook or Harden set foot there. He was a member of the then-named New Orleans Hornets who played in OKC during the Hurricane Katrina recovery.
Westbrook and Harden were Thunder teammates for three seasons, the last of those being the 2011-12 campaign when that duo and Kevin Durant took Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals. They lost in five games to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, and Harden departed that summer for Houston — where he’s been an All-Star ever since.
But when the Thunder agreed last week to trade Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers — in a move that essentially sealed 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard’s decision to leave Toronto for the Clippers — it became clear quickly that Westbrook would be on the move as well. And this trade, when completed, will mean that Thunder general manager Sam Presti has added eight first-round picks to the team’s stockpile in the last week or so.
Oklahoma City got five first-round future selections as part of the George trade. The Thunder are getting two more in this trade, and got a 2020 first-round pick in the deal completed earlier this week that sent Jerami Grant to Denver.
Paul and Harden were teammates for two seasons in Houston. The Rockets had a 3-2 lead over Golden State in the 2018 Western Conference finals when Paul injured a hamstring, and the Warriors rallied to win that series in seven games on the way to the NBA title. This past season, Houston was ousted in the second round by the Warriors.
The 34-year-old Paul is owed roughly $125 million over the final three years of his contract, including a $44.2 million option for 2021-22. Westbrook, who turns 31 early next season, is owed $171 million over the final four years of his existing deal.
They would have an aged but still effective point guard in Paul, one of the league’s better centers on both ends of the court in Steven Adams and Galinari, who isn’t quite an All-Star, but who averaged 19.8 points and 6.1 rebounds last season in Los Angeles, at power forward.
All of that, a rising star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and perhaps a revitalized, ready, healthy and hungry Andre Roberson.
If Paul could stay on the floor — he’s missed 24 games each of the last two seasons — it might be a team capable of remaining competitive, perhaps even playoff bound, even while the franchise remains in transition.
Meanwhile, fans will have to come to terms with saying goodbye to the Thunder’s only constant star.
Twice the world thought Westbrook would be leaving Oklahoma City and twice he elected to stay.
His loyalty did not produce playoff results, but it made him a prince with the fans, who watched Durant leave and Harden force his departure, unable to come to terms with the Thunder after spending his first three season in OKC.