Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has a reputation for being an astute businessman. Forbes has called him the “world’s richest restaurateur,” he was the star of the CNBC show Billion Dollar Buyer, and he was able to buy the Houston Rockets for a then NBA record of $2.2 billion.
However, for all of Fertitta’s alleged business brilliance he has a blind spot when it comes to basketball decisions. In October of 2020, Tim MacMahon of ESPN revealed that the driving force behind the Rockets’ trade of Chris Paul in the summer of 2019 was none other than Tilman Fertitta.
“That trade was made because Tilman Fertitta wanted it made — he thought Chris Paul’s contract was the worst that he’d ever seen in business or sports”
When it comes to business Tilman Fertitta isn’t usually wrong, but, it’s official now, he was dead wrong about Chris Paul. In the two years since the Fertitta mandated trade, Paul has put in vintage performances as he led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a surprising playoff appearance in 2020 and now the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals.
And while Chris Paul is on the cusp of a championship, Fertitta was quoted by ESPN saying, “I never thought I could feel this good after winning only 16 games.” The question remains, how was Fertitta so wrong about Chris Paul?
Houston Rockets: Why Tilman Fertitta wanted to move Chris Paul
When Fertitta demanded that Paul be traded in the summer of 2019, Paul was coming off the worst season of his professional career. He had just set career lows in win shares (6.6), win shares per 48 minutes (.172), and value over a replacement player (2.8), and at the age of 33 it looked like he was headed for a decline.
Factor in that he was owed $79.8 million over the next two seasons with a $44.2 million player option for 2021-22 and it’s easy to see why Fertitta was getting a little skittish. However, a down year for Chris Paul still saw him finish 47th in win shares in only 58 games, 30th in win shares per 48 minutes, and 34th in value over a replacement player.
Houston Rockets: What Tilman Fertitta got wrong about Chris Paul
At that exact moment Paul’s contract wasn’t looking good, but to call it the worst in business or sports was not only a massive overstatement but it completely ignored Paul’s incredible body of work. Only a season before, Paul’s first in Houston, he finished 12th in win shares, 3rd in win shares per 48 minutes, and 14th in value over a replacement player.
Since Paul’s down year he has rebounded substantially, finishing 9th in win shares in 2019-20 and 6th in 2020-21 at the advanced ages of 34 and 35. The player option that Fertitta was so scared of now has next to no chance of being exercised.
Houston Rockets: How Tilman Fertitta’s error compounded
To add insult to injury, the contract that Fertitta believed was the worst in professional sports led the Rockets to acquire Russell Westbrook and his awful contract, which then led the Rockets to acquire John Wall, who honestly does have the worst contract in North American professional sports. If the Phoenix Suns win the NBA championship they’ll have to send Fertitta his own championship ring for giving up on far too soon Chris Paul.
As any successful business person will tell you, failure isn’t something to be avoided, it’s something to be learned from. Hopefully, Fertitta has learned from his previous failure that you never doubt Chris Paul, and, more importantly, that it’s almost impossible to trade a bad contract for a better one.