TULSA, Okla. — The easiest way to become a pebble-in-his-Jordans annoyance to Chris Paul these days is to question how he and James Harden will co-exist because both have been so “ball-dominant” over the years. Paul has heard the “b-word” description so many times since joining the Houston Rockets that it’s become trite and, in many ways, offensive, with regard to his latest career move. He also would rather not have his knowledge of basketball — not the game he’s been playing since he was “4 or 5” — doubted the way it is has been since he decided to form one of the more intriguing backcourt pairings in decades.
To Paul, the concerns over whether this partnership will work suggests that he flippantly decided to take command of his career by opting into the final year of his contract and demanding a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers — as if he hadn’t done his homework with Harden and studied how they would complement each other. No way would a player with impeccable on-court vision be so short-sighted when it came to his career. Paul would rather the naysayers find another argument because calling him and Harden “ball-dominant” isn’t going to cut it.
“I hate to say this, but somebody who says that, they obviously don’t watch enough,” Paul told The Vertical before helping the Rockets beat the new-look Oklahoma City Thunder 104-97 in his preseason debut Tuesday at BOK Center. “Somebody will say, ‘ball-dominant,’ but at the end of the day, you’re called on to do what your team needs you to do. If you’re a 3-point shooter, and the coach puts you in to shoot 3-pointers, are you going to say, ‘He’s just a 3-point shooter?’ The thing is, having the ability to have a guy who can create off the dribble and stuff like that is nice. And great.”
For much of his 12-year career through New Orleans and Los Angeles, Paul has had the ball in his hands and was tasked with running the show. He has turned that responsibility into a Hall of Fame-caliber career that finds him as the active leader in career assists, on pace toward becoming in another three seasons the sixth player in NBA history to reach 10,000 dimes. But that success has come without an adequate postseason résumé, the frustration prompting him to finally try something different after a second straight first-round exit.
“It was definitely time for a change. It was definitely time for a change,” Paul told The Vertical, repeating for emphasis.
Harden was open to change, too. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni put the ball in his hands like never before and Harden put up numbers that would’ve easily earned him an MVP trophy in any other season except one in which his good friend, Russell Westbrook, became the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double. But a second career runner-up MVP finish was unfulfilling because of an inexplicable postseason flameout that could mostly be attributed to fatigue and attrition. Harden’s pride wasn’t going to get in the way of accepting help. And his desire to have Paul around to relieve him from all of the playmaking and decision-making made it easier for Paul to make his decision.
The NBA has had its share of duos throughout league history, but the most legendary combinations were either a big man and a guard (Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant) or two wing players (Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade). Backcourt combos are even harder to find. And most of the more memorable championship pairings were drafted and developed together (Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson). Two potential Hall of Famers coming together, as Paul and Harden have, hasn’t happened since Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe brought some magic — and a title — to Madison Square Garden in the 1970s. [/restrict]