First, we were talking about Chris Paul on the Knicks, then the Lakers, then the Clippers. But what about the Thunder? Would simply swapping Paul (26) for Russell Westbrook (23) make the Thunder even better? We asked around the TrueHoop Newtork for answers. (Note: this question assumes that the Thunder would likely have to include other assets to get Paul).
1) True or False: Going to the Thunder would give Paul best shot at a ring
Beckley Mason: The only really good team that can compete for Paul is the Lakers (assuming Gordon goes in a deal with the Clippers), and they would likely have to give up Gasol to get him. In this hypothetical deal, the Durant-Harden/Ibaka-Paul core might not be stronger than Paul-Kobe-Bynum now, but will be as Durant eclipses Kobe. Might come down to which player can be healthier– Perkins or Bynum.
Royce Young (Daily Thunder): False. The Thunder are going to compete for a title, but they aren’t necessarily the best shot CP3 has got. If he were in L.A. with Kobe and Andrew Bynum, he’d have a pretty good shot. Same if he were to magically win up in Dallas. Heck, his best shot at one might be if he went to Orlando and played with Dwight Howard, assuming Howard would stay then of course. OKC gives him a great shot, but I don’t know about the best one.
Joe Gerrity (Hornets 24/7): If the deal was simply Paul for Westbrook plus unimportant filler, then true. Neither LA team is set up as well as OKC for either this year or the future. Plus Paul is the perfect complementary point guard for a stud shooter like Durant, and would provide the team with a steady hand to consistently guide them through the Western Conference. Can they beat the Heat? Tough to say, but Paul can’t go there.
Brett Koremenos: True. Assuming we’re choosing between his recent suitors and not every team in the league. Paul going to the Thunder for a package centered around Westbrook + fillers automatically makes OKC head and shoulders above everyone else in the league that could get him and right on par with that team in South Beach.
Rob Mahoney (Two Man Game): Well, going to the Heat would probably give Paul the best shot at a ring. But outside of that non-possibility, I’d say the Thunder are the surest bet. Paul would give the Lakers a chance to retool or transform the Clippers into a pretty frightening borderline contender, but the Thunder are already a fantastic, successful team. Paul isn’t some “missing piece” the team needs, but when you plop the best point guard in the game on an already terrific roster, I fail to see how things wouldn’t go exceedingly well. OKC may not be on Paul’s wish list, but he’d kill it with the Thunder.
2) True or False: Thunder would be a better team next year with Paul rather than Westbrook
Beckley Mason: True. Assuming Paul is at least as healthy as he was in the second half of his first post-knee surgery season, the Thunder would get the veteran presence that Durant and Westbrook may one day provide right now. Though Paul isn’t the scorer Westbrook is, I would expect Harden and/or Ibaka to be able to replace Westbrook’s shots with Paul distributing.
Royce Young: False. But I say that with a good level of uncertainty. Because this Thunder team has been structured in a very specific way and while I would acknowledge CP3 is a better player and point guard than Westbrook, I’m not 100 percent sure he’s the better fit. I know what people think they saw in last season’s playoffs, but the reality is, that Russell Westbrook is why Oklahoma City was in the Western Conference Finals in the first place.
Joe Gerrity: True. Paul’s a considerably better passer and floor general than Westbrook. Durant and Westbrook is a nice duo, Paul and Durant is flat out unstoppable. How can you double team two guys at once. Barring injury, there really shouldn’t even be a question that the Thunder would win more regular season and playoff games with Paul at the helm.
Brett Koremenos: True. Their PERs are about equal but CP3 is light years ahead of Westbrook in terms of decision-making and generally running a team. Plus, a distributor/creator like Paul pairs better with a star like Durant, who has surprising trouble creating his own shot. Not saying Westbrook can’t improve upon those things, but he won’t get to Paul’s level by next season.
Rob Mahoney: This is where things get a bit dicey. I’ll say false, if only because of the strange circumstances brought on by a lockout-shortened season and the Hornets’ unseemly ownership situation.
If OKC were to trade for Chris Paul, the negotiations would probably last several days, meaning he would miss at least half of the Thunder’s training camp. Player integration is pretty damn important, and without a substantial training camp/preseason period to work out the kinks, the Thunder would be left to their own devices on a hectic schedule with little real practice time. OKC may not have a very hefty playbook, but basketball chemistry only comes in an organic form; it can’t be faked, it can’t be expedited, and it can’t be demanded. It just happens when it happens, and though a Paul-infused Hornets team would still be quite good in the interim, I don’t think that squad’s potential would be actualized until the following season.
Add in Paul’s unfortunate inconsistency (see: the 2010-2011 season) and some wobbly knees playing 66 rapid-fire games, and I’m inclined to side with the far safer Westbrook.
3) True or False: Thunder would win more games over the next five years with Paul rather than Westbrook
Beckley Mason: Push. I’m far less confident here because Westbrook has the potential to be the very best point guard in the league, better than Rose, Paul, whoever. But if Paul will only be 31 in five seasons, on the tail end of his prime. He’s so short, and I worry that his knee will rob him of explosiveness sooner rather than later. I also expect Westbrook to evolve alongside Harden into the best, most balanced backcourt since Parker-Ginobili.
Royce Young: False. Westbrook’s ceiling is still ridiculously high and I’m not sure I could put a cap on where the team could go with Westbrook. With CP3 I think we’d have a pretty good idea. With Westbrook, I’m not entirely sure.
Joe Gerrity: Yeah, of course. The only concern would be the knee injury, but that’s been overblown. He still has the majority of his meniscus in one knee, and the other one hasn’t had any real problems.
Brett Koremenos: True (with hesitation). It’s hard to say what can happen in five years. But assuming Paul’s knee holds up and Sam Presti keeps making Sam Presti-like decisions, I can’t see why they would be worse with Paul than without him.
Rob Mahoney: I’m not a doctor, and I can’t even bring myself to play one on a blog. I have 100 percent faith in both Paul and Westbrook’s ability to remain highly productive over the next five seasons…with the obvious, sole caveat being Paul’s health. So the best I can do under these circumstances is this: True*.
Even with some injury-related decline, Paul is likely (Possibly? Maybe? I don’t want to undersell Westbrook’s incredible potential here.) the better player of the two, and a better pairing with the sometimes questionable play calling of Scott Brooks. Westbrook is an elite shot creator, but Paul runs a more balanced offense, better suited for those moments when he’s functionally acting as a coach on the floor. Throw in the amplifier effect he would have on the production of guys like Serge Ibaka and even Kendrick Perkins, and a healthy* Paul would likely take the Thunder further than Westbrook ever could.
4) True or False: Chemistry isn’t a breakfast burrito (h/t KG) so Paul acquisition is a risk
Beckley Mason: Fact, but it doesn’t matter. Hard to imagine that Paul represents more of a risk to on-court chemistry than does Westbrook. I don’t think Westbrook and Durant have personal beef of any sort, but you could tell Durant had a hard time swallowing some of Westbrook’s decisions last year. I assume he’d quickly become comfortable with Paul spoon-feeding him open jumpers.
Royce Young: True. But at the same time, chemistry can be re-built fairly quickly. The Thunder absolutely loved Jeff Green. He was everyone’s favorite player in the locker room. Sam Presti cried when he traded him. And obviously the team moved on. But at the same time, Green wasn’t the star Westbrook is, and like I said, this team has been built intentionally to be like this.
Joe Gerrity: False. You don’t trade for Paul unless he wants to be there. If he wants to be there, then there won’t be a chemistry problem. Guy is a fantastic player who wants to win games. He will make it work.
Brett Koremenos: False. Sure, there will be an adjustment period, but it isn’t as if Paul is a ball-dominant scorer. He’s by all accounts a great teammate/locker room guy and a selfless and smart player. In a season where everyone will be struggling to get on the same page all year long, an acquisition of Paul won’t set OKC back anymore than the lockout has.
Rob Mahoney: False — chemistry is exactly like a breakfast burrito, and I find this question incredibly offensive to the breakfast burrito-loving community. It’s true that chemistry is a delicate balance of ingredients (much like the robust combination of well-cooked eggs, crisp bacon, accentual cheese, understated potatoes, and quality salsa), but I don’t see Paul as a long-term problem. It’s not like you’re throwing some durian into that burrito; it could merely take a minute to get the recipe just right — for Paul and his teammates to work out the kinks.
There is some short-term risk involved (see question #2), but Paul’s playing style is as team-friendly as such things come.
5) True or False: Westbrook’s youth, health outweigh any advantages Paul may have
Beckley Mason: False. This may be a matter of taste, but I think that sharing the ball is the best way to make an offense hard to guard. There are plenty of counter examples, like the ’06 Heat, but on the whole, it’s harder to guard 5 people than it is one or two. Paul demands defenses do the former. That ability would be deadly with a teammate like Durant, who deserves two or three defenders on his own. Westbrook’s potential is tantalizing, but Paul also has a chance to return to his 2007-2009 levels, which were pretty much the best seasons by any point guard ever.
Royce Young: True. I’d also add to that “ability.” Russell Westbrook is a fantastic player. Swap him and Derrick Rose putting Westbrook in Chicago and you might be talking about last season’s MVP. I’d rather see where this team goes with Westbrook running the show than anyone else. If OKC made the deal and they didn’t win a title, I’d always wonder what if with Westbrook. I won’t feel that way about CP3.
Joe Gerrity: False. False. False. Paul (who is 26) has put up a few of the greatest seasons ever by an NBA player. His performance in the playoffs last year against the Lakers proved that he’s still more than capable of not only performing at that level, but doing it repeatedly and against a high caliber opponent. Westbrook is a great player, but he’s no Chris Paul. Never has been, never will be.
Brett Koremenos: False. Paul’s knee is a serious concern, but until it completely diminishes his effectiveness, he’ll be an improvement over Westbrook as a game-manager and distributor. Besides, even if Paul’s knee shortens his career (ala Brandon Roy), Westbrook’s youth and durability guarantee only that he’ll be on the court, not that OKC will reach the top of the mountain.
Rob Mahoney: False. Both are hugely persuasive elements of this debate, but I have too much faith in Paul’s playmaking and defense to conclusively say that Westbrook outweighs those advantages. Westbrook’s youth and health are nice — and give him the benefit of more than a few asterisks in this discussion — but overall I see a fantastic player who likely won’t touch Paul’s transcendent highs.
CP had a very strong campaign last season despite playing heavy minutes alongside Marco Belinelli, Willie Green, and Aaron Gray. With that in mind, the thought of what he could do with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and an altogether deep Thunder team puts me in a tizzy. We shouldn’t undersell the impact of teammate quality in comparing Paul and Westbrook, and that alone helps to counterbalance some of Westbrook’s contextual advantages. With a better team — like that one in OKC — Paul could very easily vault his production back toward the jaw-dropping level of his 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons, and render these kinds of debates irrelevant.