While the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers were making headlines in the NBA with big free agent signings this offseason, the Houston Rockets made a trade that turned plenty of heads in the league.
By trading Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Russell Westbrook, the Rockets made it clear that they were doing everything they could to win now. But with questions about how viable their new-look roster is as a championship contender, it’s worth wondering if they can finally reach the top of the mountain.
The acquisition of Westbrook for Paul is overall a positive for the Rockets for a couple of reasons. The biggest of those reasons is the fact that Paul and Harden were no longer capable of working together due to the growing rift between them. Combined with the fact that Westbrook is younger and more athletic, the Rockets should see a net positive come out of what was a surprising trade when it happened during the off-season.
And the move to get Westbrook did keep the Rockets as one of the title favorites heading into this season. According to the latest basketball odds to win the Finals, the Rockets find themselves at +850 to win the championship. That puts them only behind the two Los Angeles teams, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Philadelphia 76ers despite the fact that the Rockets have to get through the absolutely loaded Western Conference in order to win the title. That is a sign that oddsmakers are confident in what the Rockets have built here despite their previous playoff failures.
It is hard not to feel good about what the Rockets have done based on the fact that they have solidified their roster beyond just trading for Westbrook. They also brought back guard Eric Gordon, whose outside shooting is one of the big reasons that the team has been so successful in recent seasons. While Harden usually gets all of the attention, it was Gordon’s scoring that usually dictated whether or not the Rockets were in games in previous postseason runs.
The team also kept a key piece of their interior by keeping Nene on the roster again. Nene’s value comes in the fact that he is a bit more versatile offensively than starting center Clint Capela. Namely, he has more touch outside of the paint, which allows the Rockets to spread the floor more effectively when not running a pick and roll offense. With Harden and Westbrook both so good at getting to the rim in the halfcourt, that could be a major boost for the Rockets’ offense this season.
With all of this said, the road for the Rockets to attempt to win a title won’t be easy. No team in the Western Conference will have an easy road through the playoffs this year, given that the conference may now be stronger than any conference has been in the history of the sport given the player movement this offseason. But if the Rockets can find enough shots for both Westbrook and Harden, they have just as good a chance as any team to emerge when the smoke clears.