Chris Paul is heading to Houston to join James Harden, and the Rockets will have two All-Stars in the backcourt to lead their chase for a championship after a blockbuster trade with the LA Clippers on Wednesday.
"Any day you can acquire a Hall of Fame-level player is a good day for the franchise," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. "... It's a weapons race in the NBA, and you're either in the weapons race or on the sidelines. We felt with Harden in his prime, Chris Paul in his prime, this gives us a real shot to chase the juggernaut teams that are out there and puts us right there with them."
The Rockets will send Sam Dekker, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Wiltjer, a top-three-protected 2018 first-round pick and $661,000 to the Clippers in exchange for Paul, who tweeted that he was going through an "unbelievable amount of emotions right now."
Unbelievable amount of emotions right now.. pic.twitter.com/1FB7ade7uC— Chris Paul (@CP3) June 28, 2017
The Clippers had not committed to give Paul, 32, the full five-year max contract of $201 million, league sources told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. There was strong internal debate on whether the team should pay $45 million in the final year of a deal, in which Paul would have been 37 years old.
"Since winning back-to-back championships [in 1994 and '95], the pursuit of a third title has remained the ultimate goal for our franchise," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said in a statement. "We feel that combining two of the league's greatest players in James Harden and Chris Paul, operating in Coach [Mike] D'Antoni's system, gives us a championship-caliber team that will compete at the highest level for years to come."
The Clippers were determined to get something for Paul, rather than lose him for nothing, sources told ESPN. So the point guard, who wanted to play with Harden, instead agreed to opt in for the final year of his contract (worth $24.2 million) to facilitate the trade.
"Without Harden, none of this happens," Morey said. "He's the reason everyone wants to be in Houston. ... We have the two best playmakers in the league."
Sources told ESPN's Michael Eaves that the relationship between Paul and Doc Rivers, the Clippers coach and president of basketball operations, had deteriorated rapidly since the team acquired Austin Rivers -- Doc's son -- during the 2015-16 season.
"Chris and I had a very good relationship," Doc Rivers told ESPN's The Ryen Russillo Show on Thursday. "Did we have a great relationship all the time? No. I think you've been around basketball long enough to know, when you're the head coach, you are going to have days when you don't get along with your players, or a player, and you're going to have days when you get along great. That's just the nature of the beast."
Doc Rivers, speaking with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, had called the departure "a big loss" and said he was thankful for Paul's time with the Clippers.
"He left because he wanted to be with James Harden," Rivers said. "Let's not get that twisted. I wish him well. I have no problem with that. Do I disagree? Yeah, I think he would have been better served here. But that's not for me. That's [for] CP to decide, and he decided against that."
Rivers said the Clippers did terrific under the circumstances and now "have assets."
"We've heard all the stories about Blake [Griffin] and DJ [DeAndre Jordan] and Austin," Rivers said. "I can't comment just on Austin, because it's just not right. We've heard [Paul] left because of all three today. He left because of DJ, he left because of Blake, and now he left because of Austin. We know he didn't leave because of that. There is a lot of speculation on why he left. The one thing I know is he didn't leave because of any of those three guys. He left because he felt like he would have a better chance to win somewhere else."
Paul met with the Clippers on Tuesday and didn't like what he heard from the team, sources told ESPN. He informed them Tuesday night that he planned to leave in free agency if he declined his option.
Paul spent six seasons with the Clippers, four of them while playing for Rivers.
"At the end of the day, [Paul] gave us four good years, and that's all I can ask for," Rivers told the Times. "I hate the way it ended. I wish we could have ended it better, as far as winning. But as a franchise, we love where we're at."
The Rockets needed to make the finances work before the trade became official. Houston's other moves included acquiring Hilliard (from Detroit), Liggins (Dallas), Ryan Kelly (Atlanta), Shawn Long (Philadelphia) and Tim Quarterman (Portland) in exchange for cash considerations.
Because he is being acquired in a trade, Paul is eligible for a five-year deal worth an estimated $205 million from the Rockets after the 2017-18 season. If the nine-time All-Star had opted out and signed with a team other than the Clippers in free agency, the most that team could have offered was a four-year deal worth just more than $152 million.
"We want Chris here as long as possible," Morey said.
The San Antonio Spurs had planned to aggressively pursue Paul if he had become a free agent, sources told ESPN.
Wednesday's trade had an immediate effect on the teams' odds to win the title. The Rockets' odds improved from 30-1 to 15-1 at the Westgate SuperBook, while the Clippers' odds fell from 40-1 to 100-1.
"You can't have too many point guards, can't have too many smart guys, can't have too many stars," D'Antoni said. "... [Paul] is one of the best point guards to ever play the game. If we can't figure it out, we are in a lot of trouble."
D'Antoni told USA Today Sports' NBA A to Z podcast on Wednesday that he expects Paul and Harden to share point guard responsibilities.
"It's a little early to say that we'll do this or we'll do that, for sure. But ... I've always thought that the more point guards you have on the court the better," D'Antoni said. "... So we'll just have to figure it out a little bit. And the other good thing about it is that there will always be a great point guard on the floor at all times, so it's definitely a positive."
Sources told Eaves that Paul had become unhappy with Rivers over the preferential treatment of his son. Sources told Eaves that Doc Rivers would yell at players for certain things during games and practices but would not get on Austin Rivers in the same manner for similar transgressions.
In addition, sources told Eaves that Paul lost trust and faith in his coach after Doc Rivers ultimately declined a trade last season that would have brought Carmelo Anthony and Sasha Vujacic to the Clippers in exchange for Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and Austin Rivers.
Doc Rivers told Russillo that there was no offer made for Anthony to join the Clippers, calling the reports "just silly."
Beverley tweeted that he was excited to join the Clippers. The point guard received All-Defensive first-team honors last week, and he averaged 9.5 points, 4.2 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game last season.
Let's get it Clippers!!! Let's get it!!!!— Patrick Beverley (@patbev21) June 28, 2017
Alexander extended his "deepest gratitude" to Beverley, "who, for the past five seasons, always left everything he had out on the court."
Williams, 30, winner of the 2014-15 NBA Sixth Man Award, was traded to the Rockets from the Los Angeles Lakers in February. The veteran averaged 14.9 points and 3.0 rebounds in 23 games for Houston after the trade.
Dekker, the 18th pick in the 2015 draft, missed all but three games as a rookie because of back surgery. The small forward was healthy this season and appeared in 77 games, averaging 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds.
Harrell, a second-round pick in 2015, averaged 6.9 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in two seasons in Houston.
Wiltjer spent most of his rookie year in 2016-17 in the D-League after going undrafted out of Gonzaga.
Paul, 32, has performed impressively since the Clippers acquired him in a 2011 trade with New Orleans.
Since the deal, he has made the All-NBA first team three times, the All-NBA second team two times and the All-Defensive first team six times. He averaged 18.8 points, 9.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game over his six seasons in Los Angeles.
But the Clippers' shortcoming during that span has been playoff success. Despite having stars such as Paul, Griffin and Jordan, as well as the 2013 addition of Doc Rivers as coach, Los Angeles hasn't made it out of the second round in the past six seasons and has lost in the first round in each of the past two campaigns.
Griffin informed the Clippers last week that he is opting out of the final year of his contract to explore free agency. JJ Redick also is a free agent.
The Clippers are now focused on retaining Griffin, sources told Shelburne. They will have an advantage because they can offer a fifth year, while other teams can't offer more than four years.
Paul was ranked No. 3 on the list of top available free agents this offseason by ESPN's Kevin Pelton.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.