Rockets still haunted by one of the worst trades in NBA history

The Houston Rockets are still haunted by a deal that sent Chris Paul to the Thunder
The Houston Rockets are still haunted by a deal that sent Chris Paul to the Thunder / Tim Warner/GettyImages

You can't win them all.

Sometimes, you can only hope to mitigate a loss. Sure, you lost - how badly? Will you get back up?

The Houston Rockets suffered a substantial loss in the summer of 2019. Frankly, they made one of the worst trades in NBA history.

They're still paying for it.

Houston Rockets still suffering from Chris Paul trade

The Rockets sent Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook. That alone would have been a suspect deal - more on that later.

Unfortunately, that's far from the sum total of the trade. The Rockets also sent the Thunder protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, along with protected swap rights in 2021 and 2025.

The Rockets got lucky in 2021. Their pick was top-4 protected, and it landed second overall. If it hadn't, Jalen Green would likely be in Cleveland right now (or at least, in the south of France preparing to return to Cleveland).

This summer, they didn't get so lucky. The Rockets are sending the Thunder the 12th overall pick. In 2026, they'll almost inevitably send them another first-rounder.

When this deal was made, Daryl Morey was the Rockets' general manager. For him, first-round picks were a means to an end. Philosophically, Morey believed that any team with a realistic shot at winning the title should empty their war chest.

There's some merit in that philosophy. The Rockets had an in-prime James Harden. Flipping an aging Paul for a fellow MVP candidate in Russell Westbrook should have bolstered their title odds.


Houston Rockets lost this deal by any measure

In 2019-20, Paul averaged 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game for the Thunder. Westbrook posted much gaudier counting stats for the Rockets, averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

Yet, Paul had a Box Plus/Minus of 4.4 compared to Westbrook's 1.5. Value Over Replacement Player tells the same story - Paul was at 3.5, and Westbrook was at 1.8.

So, if you felt Paul was a more impactful player than Westbrook before, you would have held that view through 2019-20 - and vice versa. In any case, Westbrook's inability to shoot forced the Rockets to lean into microball. They flipped Clint Capela for Robert Covington at the deadline and started the 6'5" P.J. Tucker at the 5 for the remainder of the year just to space the floor.

That size deficit was instrumental in costing Houston a series against the bully-ball Lakers when the postseason came. It was a death knell for the Harden-era Rockets. At least they got a historic haul of draft capital for the Bearded superstar:

After all, they're still sending picks to the Thunder.