Paul, Harden plan to get over playoff hump
Chris Paul smiles after a news conference to introduce him as the newest member of the Houston Rockets, in Houston. The nine-time All-Star was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers late last month. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Storylines have a way of taking on a life of their own. Like the one that says Chris Paul is moving to Houston to help James Harden close the deal in the playoffs.
Sure, and maybe he can also show him how to grow a beard.
That's because, if anything, their career NBA resumes say it's CP3 who needs a GPS and a bit of renewed hope to finally get past the second round.
While Harden has been unable to live up to the hype and huge contract extensions that say he's a north star that can guide a real championship run, he has at least stuck his toe into the water. He went to The Finals with Oklahoma City in 2012 and drove the Rockets to the Western Conference finals in 2015.
So now perhaps the two pre-eminent point guards of the era, come together to give each other an assist.
“It's not about me coming here just to help him,” Paul told reporters Friday (Saturday, PHL time) at a news conference in Houston. “He's going to help me. We're going to help each other. We're going to help this team hopefully get to where we want to be.
“We talked about the ultimate goal, and that's winning [it all]. Neither one of us have had the opportunity to do that. We talked about how good that would feel. That's probably what I'm most excited about, is to be on this journey with somebody else who wants it as bad as I do.”
After five seasons in Los Angeles where the Lob City Clippers filled up highlight reels, but never late rounds in the playoffs, it was time for the 32-year-old Paul to relocate. Whether it was over a difference of opinion over how Clippers boss Doc Rivers treated his own son Austin that caused a rift, is juicy fodder for the gossip mill that won't matter a bit once Harden and Paul take the flood together for the 2017-18.
What will matter is how Paul and Harden -- or Harden and Paul -- are able to coexist in the same lineup, the same backcourt, when both have been so ball-dominant throughout their careers.
Paul, the nine-year All-Star, says that is a problem for coach Mike D'Antoni to fret over.
“We'll figure things out, but it doesn't keep me up at night,” D'Antoni said. “If I stay up at night, it's because I'm excited, not because I have to worry about anything.”
Harden led the league in assists last season and finished second in the MVP balloting largely due to a radical plan by D'Antonio during his first season in Houston to switch him from shooting guard to point guard and let him run everything in the offense.
Paul is generally regarded as the best pure point guard in the league, has a personality that fills up the room when he laces on his sneakers and takes over a huddle and finished fourth in assists last season.
Everything that Rockets have done over the past two summers in giving Harden contract extensions that amount to $228 million over the next six seasons says that he's their leader. Yet Paul is an in-your-face, true alpha dog and maybe it's exactly what the Rockets do need to get them closer to the Warriors or at least let them leapfrog the Spurs as second-best in the West.
The last time the Rockets landed a running mate for Harden, it was center Dwight Howard in 2013 and that didn't work out so well. Their best season together came in 2014-15 when injuries forced Howard to miss one-half of the regular season schedule. It ended the next year in unspoken recrimination. Harden also chose to leave OKC and a star-studded lineup with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook because he wanted his own show and so there is still a question of how long he can play with others of his own elite ilk.
Meanwhile Paul has established himself as a lead dog that wants to pull the sled. But his bite hasn't always produced the effect of lifting his teammates. There were times when his in-game confrontations with fellow Clippers Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan weren't always appreciated.
Talks between the Rockets and Knicks to add a third star in Carmelo Anthony have been put on hold for now. But that doesn't stop the Rockets from still thinking big with the pair of A-listers they have on hand.
Who helps whom the most won't matter if Paul and Harden can play in tune.
“Me and James talked about it,” Paul said at the news conference. “Some people are built different. I'm built different. I always say I'm the most competitive person I know. Some people might say that's a good thing. Some might say it's a bad thing. But I'm ultra-competitive. There's no reason to play unless you're playing to win.”
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