Chris Paul OK in Oklahoma City after being shocked by Rockets trade: ‘I love to hoop’
The Thunder star discusses his exit from Houston and embracing rebuild
NEW ORLEANS – Chris Paul doesn’t have realistic championship hopes with the Oklahoma City Thunder this season. He no longer plays in a city with cachet like Los Angeles or Houston, though Bricktown is cool. And for the first time during his 15-year career, he’s playing away from his wife and kids.
But the 34-year-old point guard is keeping it all in perspective. In fact, Paul is OK with being part of a rebuilding situation.
“I love to hoop too much,” Paul told The Undefeated after scoring 16 points and dishing eight assists in a 107-104 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. “The way my mind is, as long as we’re on the court we have a chance to win. That’s the way I’ve always been. That’s the way I always will be. I’m just grateful to be hooping. … It could be a lot worse.”
Paul was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder in July. While the nine-time All-Star describes his stint in Houston as two of the best years of his career, the Rockets suffered another playoff disappointment last season and Paul heard the rumors that he could be traded to Oklahoma City. Still, Paul expected to remain in Houston considering he was in the midst of a lucrative four-year contract extension. Paul told The Undefeated that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey also told him he would be returning this season. But days later, Paul was dealt to the Thunder along with four first-round picks in exchange for Russell Westbrook. The trade would reunite Rockets star James Harden with his former Thunder teammate.
“My initial reaction?” Paul said with a laugh. “I was shocked. Truth be told, I just talked to Daryl a couple days before the trade and he said he wasn’t going to trade me [to Oklahoma City]. That’s funny because that is going to be the alert that pops up on everybody’s phone because nobody knows that. But what the hell, I just said it.”
Morey declined comment on Paul, saying he was told he wouldn’t be traded to the Thunder, but sources close to the Rockets say Morey told Paul days before the trade there was a “slim chance” he could be dealt to the Thunder and that message may have been misinterpreted. Morey had hoped the Thunder would add a third team, preferably the Miami Heat, where Paul could land on a playoff contender. But no other team joined the Paul-Westbrook deal.
Morey did tell The Undefeated that he appreciated Paul’s time in Houston.
“Chris got us as close to winning a title as we’ve been since Hakeem Olajuwon,” he said. “He was a great Rocket. I wish him the best going forward. I am a big fan of Chris. I have nothing but love for him.”
It is no secret that Paul and Harden did not see eye to eye last season. Sources said the two feuded when the Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in the second round of the 2019 playoffs. Paul acknowledged that he and Harden “haven’t really talked” since he was traded.
“It’s life. It happens. It is what it is. But I wish him nothing but the best,” Paul said.
It is not uncommon for veteran NBA players with respected resumes to balk after being dealt to rebuilding situations. For example, former Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala has not suited up for the rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies while seeking a trade after being dealt this offseason. But Paul got right to work in Oklahoma City, where he has been embraced by a fan base that knows him well. Paul was the fourth overall pick by the New Orleans Hornets in the 2005 draft. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets played Paul’s first two seasons primarily in Oklahoma City while New Orleans recovered.
“For Chris, the guy came in in July for four days and spent time with the guys,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan told The Undefeated. “He spent time with them and went to dinner with them. He has been unbelievable with our young guys. …
“The thing I admire about his professionalism is here is a guy at 34 years old who is in at 8:30 in the morning. He is taking care of his body, lifting and eating right. He still has a lot that he wants to do. He could be like, ‘I’m 34. I don’t have time for these young guys. I don’t have time for this.’ And he does it. He is a real relationship person, which for our team has been great.”
Paul has been spending a lot of time mentoring Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley and often works with them both after practice. One Thunder source said Paul’s “positive energy in the building can be felt every day.” On Sunday, Paul debated with Gilgeous-Alexander and Bazley in the visiting locker room about a recent 1-on-1 game they were engaged in. Paul was amused by the youngsters banding together against him. But all jokes aside, Gilgeous-Alexander said he has learned a lot from Paul.
“He has been great. He’s like a big brother,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He is teaching me things every day. Always talking and trying to help.”
Paul is learning too.
“We have a great group of guys. I smile a lot. I laugh a lot. As much as everyone talks about me being an older veteran, I get a chance to learn a lot, too. It’s been cool.”
The Thunder are currently 8-11, and Paul could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010. But losing has not been the hardest challenge for Paul since putting on a Thunder jersey. Rather, for the first time in his career, Paul is playing away from his wife, Jada, 10-year-old son Chris Jr., and 7-year-old daughter Camryn, who moved back to Los Angeles this offseason. Paul said his daughter took his departure particularly hard, although FaceTime has helped. The Thunder have also allowed Paul to sneak back to L.A. regularly. He was with his family during Thanksgiving.
While Paul said he doesn’t want a “pity party,” he definitely misses his family and said others have offered support. Former Rockets teammate Trevor Ariza told Paul his departure was “temporary” and San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan also offered advice. Paul said he pinpoints dates to look forward to in order to help him cope from being away from his family.
“I know it can be a lot worse,” Paul said, “and other people are dealing with stuff like that. But that’s never been my normal. Me and my wife talked and we thought being in L.A. would give [the kids] some type of stability.
The joys and challenges of black fatherhood – through the lens of NBA dads
“I am very blessed and fortunate. They come when they can. My parents are always there. My brother [C.J.] is at every home game. The team has been amazing and accommodating so I can see my family. I go as much as I can.”
There’s no telling how long Paul will remain in Oklahoma City. Paul’s name continues to surface in trade rumors, especially with players who signed contracts in the offseason becoming eligible to be moved after Dec. 15. But Paul’s contract — paying $38.5 million this season, $41.3 million next season and $44.2 million during the 2021-22 season — makes a deal quite challenging. Also keep in mind that NBA teams are expected to try to create salary cap space for the talented 2021 free agent class.
So instead of wondering what’s next, Paul is focused on the Thunder.
“I try to control what I can control,” Paul said. “And for me, that is preparing to play every night. Doing my workout. Doing my training. Hooping.”