Worst free agent signing in Houston Rockets history: Chris Paul
4 years, $159.7 million
When the Houston Rockets traded for All-NBA point guard Chris Paul during the 2017 offseason, everyone knew they were going to re-sign him the following summer. The move catapulted the Rockets to the best record in the league and to within one game of the NBA Finals.
As an undersized point guard, the expectation was (and is) that Paul would not age well. Yet, he was coming off a widely successful season in which he was the perfect fit next to James Harden, running the offense when his bearded co-star sat. For the first time in his career, he made it past the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Houston balanced the situation and ended up offering a four-year, $159.7 million contract that pays Paul an average of $39.9 million per season. It’s the type of deal Paul would earn in his prime, but would he age his way into a bad contract? One year in and the value is not looking good.
That isn’t to say that Paul has not been good, because he has played very well. Age has certainly chipped away at him, but he still averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game this past year. Where his age really reared his head was in efficiency (41.9 percent from the field, 35.8 percent from 3-point range) and health; Paul has missed 24 games each of the past two seasons.
What was not obvious to the casual fan was that behind the scenes Harden and Paul were feuding as well. Paul has always rubbed people the wrong way with his competitive drive and merciless verbal prodding, and the chemistry on the team has suffered.
Houston again came close to beating the Golden State Warriors, but fell short despite an injury to Kevin Durant, dropping them to 0-4 against this core.
Paul could be the answer to sustaining this run with Harden, relieving part of the workload and allowing head coach Mike D’Antoni to lessen the MVP’s minutes. Yet things may be too far gone chemistry-wise, and if so general manager Daryl Morey will be hard-pressed to trade Paul.
Because of his large contract, it will almost certainly mean another team sending back bad money simply to make the contracts work.
It seems unfair to denigrate a future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame player like this, but as it stands the injury risk and chemistry issues with Paul make his contract look worse and worse. Whether that ends up sinking this version of the Rockets will remain to be seen.