The first major domino of 2017 NBA free agency fell on Wednesday, as Chris Paul opted into the final year of his contract that will pay him $24.2 million next season, allowing the Los Angeles Clippers to trade him to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and a top-three protected 2018 first-round pick. Here are three takeaways from the first blockbuster move of the offseason:
The Chris Paul era in Los Angeles will ultimately be remembered for the Clippers' playoff failures.
Paul's arrival turned a laughing-stock franchise that had made the playoffs just four times since moving from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984 into a perennial contender in the West. In his six seasons in Los Angeles, the Clippers won at least 51 games five times, and they went 40-26 in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season. Those regular season numbers compare well to the Spurs, and Paul was instrumental in turning the franchise around, but any conversation about the Paul era in Los Angeles will start with their playoff shortcomings.
The Clippers lost in the first round three times and failed to make it out of the second round in any of Paul's six seasons with the team. Those playoff losses included a second-round defeat to the Thunder in 2014 in which the Clippers blew a seven-point lead with 49 seconds to play thanks to a series of turnovers and errors from Paul. The Clippers also blew a 3-1 lead against the Rockets in the second round in 2015, including losing Game 6 at home after having a 19-point lead in the second half.
At age 32, Paul has continued to stake his claim as one of the best point guards of all time. This season, he averaged 18.1 points and 9.2 assists while shooting 41.1 percent from three. He averaged 25.3 points and 9.9 assists in a first-round loss to the Jazz. Paul was the Clippers' franchise player, and he delivered on his much-hyped arrival, but ultimately, every conversation about his tenure in Los Angeles will start and end with his team's playoff exits.
The Rockets are betting on Paul and James Harden to figure it out.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has never been shy about his belief that despite his advanced analytics approach, the tried and true formula of winning a championship revolves around acquiring multiple superstars. That is why, even though Houston appeared to have found the winning formula last season with Mike D'Antoni's high-paced offense and a lineup with James Harden as the primary ball-handler surrounded by 3-point shooters, Morey is willing to upset that structure that won the team 55 games to add Paul to the mix.
The concern regarding the on-court fit of two point guards who need the ball in their hands might be overblown. Per NBA.com, Harden was fourth in the league among players who logged more than 1,000 minutes with a usage rate of 34.1 percent, while Paul ranked next to Nikola Vucevic and Greg Monroe with a 24.3 percent usage rate. If D'Antoni decides to run the offense through Harden, Paul is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter and is capable of playing off the ball and not upsetting the structure of Houston's offense.
In addition, having Paul and Harden means if the Rockets allocate their minutes properly, they could have an elite-level point guard on the floor for the full 48 minutes each game. Per NBA.com, Paul and Harden led two of the most efficient five-man units in the league last season. The Clippers' starting five with Paul at point guard outscored opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions in 871 minutes. The Rockets' starting five with Harden outscored opponents by 15.4 points per 100 possessions.
Those numbers won't automatically translate just because the Rockets have Paul and Harden, but for comparison, the Warriors led the league in net rating last season, outscoring opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions. With Paul and Harden together, Houston has the lineup combinations to potentially perform at that level. Add in the fact the Rockets are reportedly looking to land Paul George in a trade, and Houston looks determined to emerge from the offseason as the leading contender to challenge Golden State in the West.
The Clippers now head into free agency with plenty of uncertainty.
The Clippers' offseason was always going to revolve around whether Paul was returning. Now that he's off to Houston, a full rebuild appears on the horizon. Per ESPN's Brian Windhorst, J.J. Redick -- who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer -- won't be re-signing with the Clippers. Paul's departure likely also means the end of Blake Griffin's tenure in Los Angeles. The 28-year-old forward, who averaged 21.6 points and 8.1 rebounds last season, opted out of his contract earlier this week and will garner interest in free agency from Boston, Miami, Oklahoma City and potentially several other suitors.
Wanna know Jerry West's influence on the Clippers? You're seeing it. He was not in favor of the "just bring everyone back" plan.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 28, 2017
The Clippers recently hired Jerry West as a consultant for the team, and on draft night, the team was shopping DeAndre Jordan in hopes of landing a lottery pick. If Redick and Griffin both leave via free agency, those trade talks will likely start up again, and eventually there will be questions as well about coach Doc Rivers' future with the team, as it's unclear if he will want to stick around while the Clippers build themselves back up.
In their win-now pursuit during the Chris Paul era, the Clippers have left themselves without a transition plan. Dekker (23) and Beverley (28) make Los Angeles a bit younger, and the top-three protected pick gives the Clippers a future asset, even if it's likely to fall in the mid-to-low 20s. Beyond that, the Clippers don't have much and will have to start from the bottom now that Paul is in Houston. Wednesday's trade marked the official end of the most glorious era in Clippers history, but also an era that ultimately felt unfulfilled.