Chris Paul is going to the Rockets. The Clippers agreed to a deal sending Paul to Houston after he told them that his plan in free agency was to sign with Houston. Los Angeles will trade Paul for a return of Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, and Patrick Beverley. They will also receive a 2018 first-round pick.
This is a lot to take in, but it's clear a seismic shift is taking place out West. The Clippers have been considered contenders ever since Paul first arrived. Houston has been working up to that status ever since the arrival of Harden, but a lack of consistency has stood in its way. Now, with this trade, the Rockets' future's could be going in two completely different directions.
Here are five things to know about this blockbuster deal involving one of the NBA's biggest stars.
The Rockets are immediate title contenders
One thing the Warriors proved last season is the only thing that can stand in their way is a team with multiple superstars. The Rockets ran a system that would have been fun to see against that Warriors team, but they fell short to San Antonio in the second round. Harden fell apart in Game 6, Mike D'Antoni couldn't find answers and Houston's season came to a screeching halt. It was clear that this Houston team wasn't good enough to beat Golden State.
Adding Chris Paul changes that immediately. The general belief is that the Rockets quit in Game 6. Paul's competitiveness would never let that happen. He also gives Houston that second superstar with Harden that, if all of this works, could make the Rockets a real challenge for Golden State.
Houston had the NBA's second-best offense last season. The players they sent away, while big pieces, weren't making or breaking the Rockets system. They can find similar production elsewhere while adding a player who's literal nickname is the Point God. There are legitimate questions about the fit, but from a pure talent standpoint these are two players that can make anybody a contender.
The Clippers haven't blown it up ... yet
The Clippers haven't blown it up yet, but with the Paul trade they've gotten really close to doing it. Their future depends entirely on what they and Blake Griffin decide to do. If they choose to keep Griffin, then they're rolling it back with him as the main piece and using their return from Houston to compete.
Competing with their return from Houston isn't the worst idea ever. Lou Williams thrived in Houston and is still a great sixth man. Patrick Beverley is a solid starting point guard that doesn't need the ball in his hands and Sam Dekker had a solid second season. The Clippers did not leave themselves bare with this trade.
However, if Griffin decides that his time in Los Angeles is over then that's it for this era of the Clippers. There will be no option for them besides blowing everything up, because they just lost their two best players in the span of one summer. Los Angeles has options, but those options depend entirely on what Griffin decides.
Houston is not done adding yet
The Rockets could have chosen to stop after the Paul trade, but ever since the deal was made there have been rumors flying everywhere that they're going after Paul George. They are willing to take on the one-year rental if it gives them a shot at competing with the Warriors next season.
The fit, like Paul, would be a little awkward but that's not what Houston cares about right now. Talent is more important than ever to compete in the West and a team like Houston, who was already close, are the perfect choice to take that kind of risk. What's the worst-case scenario here? They manage to pull off a George trade, he leaves after a year, and they're left with cap space to immediately find another star. Houston has the flexibility to do this.
The Rockets could have chosen to wait out the Warriors until a better opening presented itself, but they've chosen to rise up to the challenge and try to form a superteam of their own. This is the new way to compete in the NBA. At least for now.
A chance CP3's stay in Houston could be short
It seems unlikely, since Paul was going to sign with Houston in free agency, but there is potential for him to turn into a rental contract. By opting in to his contract, Paul comes to Houston with one year left on his current contract before he's allowed to sign the new super max contract. The expectation is that he'll sign it once his contract comes to an end.
However, there's a possibility that his year in Houston is a disaster. The fit is already awkward with two dominant ball-handlers and everybody knows how much D'Antoni hates change. There's a real possibility that Paul's tendency to micromanage conflicts with the system that D'Antoni wants to run or the play style of Harden.
Sometimes the fit just doesn't work and that's normal. If that ends up being the case then Paul has an out. However, he's already lost out on a significant chunk of money by opting in to the final year of his contract. He'd have to pass up on even more if he wanted to leave Houston at the end of his contract.
The Western Conference landscape has changed
This trade has completely altered the landscape of the West. The Clippers aren't going to be contenders, even if Griffin chooses to stay in Los Angeles. That raises the floor for everybody that's below them. Teams like the Jazz, Thunder, and Grizzlies can use the Clippers' step backward as a chance to move up.
The Rockets, on the other hand, have made themselves another name that's worth discussing up top. They've struggled to consistently remain a contender throughout the Harden era, but with Paul on the roster they're at least in the conversation with Golden State and on equal footing with San Antonio. A break here, a lucky shot there, and the Rockets could find themselves in the NBA Finals next season.
The top of the West might not look that much different on the surface, but it's going to at least seem more competitive next season than it was previously. That's the type of impact the Paul trade will have.