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Chris Paul and James Harden on the Rockets is the mad science experiment the NBA needed

The NBA became a more interesting place with Houston’s trade for Paul, and that’s the most important thing.

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets - Game Seven Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The NBA didn’t need to wait for the dawn of free agency on July 1 to seize the news cycle and send shockwaves throughout the sports world. Two days before he could have hit the open market, Chris Paul was reportedly traded to the Houston Rockets in a deal that immediately reshapes the league’s hierarchy.

The Rockets are adding one of the greatest point guards of all time to a team that won 55 games and finished third in the Western Conference last season. Paul will pair with James Harden to form the league’s most talented backcourt, a devastating one-two punch that — on paper at least — launches Houston into legitimate title contention.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been trying to add another superstar to his roster for years. Houston courted Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant in recent years, only to strike out. Morey actually landed Dwight Howard, but age and injuries had ravaged his game by that point.

Now Morey has his man in CP3. It will be fascinating to watch.

This trade is exactly what the NBA needed

Let’s be real: the NBA season seemed all too inevitable last year. The Warriors became a juggernaut of historic proportions when they signed Kevin Durant in free agency. The Cavaliers remained unchallenged in the East. Everyone predicted a third-straight Finals matchup between Golden State and Cleveland before the season even started and that’s exactly what happened.

Paul’s arrival in Houston creates a new super team that immediately makes the league more compelling. It shows that teams aren’t just going to let the Warriors run away with the championship every year. That’s a great thing for the NBA.

This feels like a direct response to Golden State’s dominance. It could only be the start of teams planning to go at the reigning champs. The Boston Celtics are already rumored to be pursuing both Gordon Hayward and Paul George. The Spurs have avenues to create max cap space in free agency. The Cavs won’t be complacent either. Cleveland is already rumored to be shopping Kevin Love for a new star — namely, George.

The NBA thrives on competition. Last year, that felt like it didn’t exist. It won’t be so easy for Golden State next time around.

James Harden and Chris Paul is a thrilling experiment

Can James Harden and CP3 coexist? We can’t wait to find out.

Harden’s production went through the roof last season in his first year under Mike D’Antoni’s dynamic offensive scheme. Harden was moved to point guard, where he averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game to finish second in MVP voting.

Harden just put up one of the great statistical seasons the league has ever seen, thanks in large part to Houston building a team perfectly designed to play off him. As Tim Cato reported for SB Nation, the alchemy between Harden, D’Antoni, and Houston’s army of spot-up shooters allowed the Rockets to overachieve and brought Harden’s game to new heights.

Now, Harden will to move off the ball again to accommodate the arrival of a living legend.

Paul, even at 32 years old, remains a wizard. He was second in the NBA last season in Real Plus-Minus, only behind LeBron James, and posted one of the league’s highest PERs at 26.25. There are very few players in this league who impact winning as significantly as Paul.

Sure, there are questions. How will two ball-dominant superstars learn to play together? Why move Harden off the ball just one season after he blossomed into such an incredible offensive force? How much longer can CP3 maintain this level of All-NBA caliber play? Can CP3’s slowdown approach work in D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense?

Those are questions for another day. For now, the union of Paul and Harden makes the NBA a more interesting place. If anyone can figure it out, it’s D’Antoni.

For the Rockets, this trade is a slam dunk even with the obvious fit concerns. Harden turns 28 years old in August and is currently at the height of his powers. The Warriors showed it takes as many superstars as possible to win a title. Houston just acquired one of the few players on Earth who deserves that distinction.

In Paul, the Rockets are adding an elite shooter and defender who happens to be one of the great floor generals the game has ever seen. Stephen Curry and the rest of the Warriors have to be sweating after seeing this deal.

The NBA arms race is just beginning to heat up. This is a beautiful start.

Dan Patrick on CP3’s decision to join Houston: