The NBA’s free agent season hasn’t officially started yet, but one of the league’s biggest dominoes has already fallen. The Houston Rockets have reportedly acquired Chris Paul from the Clippers, likely shutting the window on Los Angeles’ slim title hopes. In exchange for trading the All-NBA point guard before he could opt out of his contract and leave as a free agent, the Clips got two veterans, a young forward with potential, and a late first-round draft pick.
The move makes Houston stronger, at least on paper, and possibly for only one year. The Rockets now boast what may be the league’s best backcourt after pairing Paul with MVP candidate James Harden. The only competition comes from Golden State, who has Splash Brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Paul is one of the purest point guards to take the hardwood the last three decades. Harden is a combo guard whose dangerous scoring ability and vision give him the opportunity to dish more than 10 assists per game. Adding the former Clipper will allow Harden to return to his Oklahoma City roots and play off the ball more. With a passing wizard as his partner, he’ll get cleaner scoring opportunities than ever. Paul, a nine-time NBA All-Defensive team honoree, will also help mitigate his new teammate’s defensive lapses as well.
But there’s a possibility the move could backfire. Harden’s finest seasons as a pro have come as his team’s primary ballhandler, where he’s proven he’s more than just a shooting guard. While Paul is an unselfish playmaker, he’s also taken an average of 14 shots per game throughout his storied career. There may not be enough looks to go around in the Houston backcourt.
The impact of the deal wasn’t lost on the NFL.
This creates a scenario. What would the equivalent of a Chris Paul-James Harden team-up be on the gridiron? Could two dominant players who share a position co-exist?
In order to qualify for this hypothetical, two players would have to share a position that allows the pair to be on the field at the same time — so no quarterbacks or kickers, basically. Since superstar trades happen so rarely in the NFL, it’s also extremely unlikely any of these scenarios would play out. Most of the players on the move here aren’t just at the top of their games, they’re also happy where they are. In a league with significantly more parity than the NBA, they’re never far from contending for a championship.
Additionally, compensatory draft picks help soften the blow of losing players in free agency — something that would not have been available to help the Clippers had Paul opted out on his own — so there’s less impetus to deal players on expiring contracts. Los Angeles took what it could get in order to produce some kind of return for a player who was leaving anyway. In that spirit, these trades are similarly lopsided and, again, not real swap scenarios nor in any way likely to happen.
With that in mind, let’s explore the NFL analogues to a Paul-Harden backcourt in Houston.
Cowboys acquire Le’Veon Bell, sending Demarcus Lawrence, Rico Gathers, and two future second-round picks to the Steelers
Bell earned the Steelers’ franchise tag this season, but has yet to sign it in hopes of working out a contract extension with the only NFL team he’s ever known. Should things go sour, he could take the one-year, $12.12 million deal and look for employment elsewhere in 2018.
If he hit the market, Bell would have his share of suitors in free agency. In this case, the Cowboys theoretically swoop in with a nickels-for-dollars offer to ensure Pittsburgh gets something in return.
While sharing the ball with Ezekiel Elliott wouldn’t be ideal, running behind Dallas’ space-clearing offensive line certainly would. Bell and Elliott would carve up the NFC East, pushing the Cowboys’ Super Bowl odds into the stratosphere in the process. The only question is whether or not 15 touches per game would be enough for Zeke to eat.
Steelers acquire Julio Jones for Sammie Coates, Bud Dupree, Martavis Bryant, and a future first-rounder
Pittsburgh may already have one of the league’s deepest receiving corps, but finding a way to add Jones for young talent would make things borderline unfair. Antonio Brown’s second-level speed allows him to do this:
But Jones’ length, athleticism, and sense of the moment led him to this:
It would be an embarrassment of riches for Ben Roethlisberger, who would finish his career in quarterback heaven.
This one actually sounds pretty possible. Not the Chiefs letting their All-Pro, signed-through-2021 stud go, mind you, but the part where the Patriots find another starting tight end to pair with Rob Gronkowski. While it’s unlikely the Chiefs would trade Alex Smith’s security blanket, upgrading from Smith to Brady would be a major win for the pass catcher. If Gronk could stay healthy, that duo would wreak havoc on the poor linebackers forced into coverage against them.
Plus, tell me this guy isn’t the perfect teammate for America’s favorite yellow-lab-turned-human-tight-end:
Seahawks trade Richard Sherman to Chiefs for first, second-round picks
Getting Butler would have been a great pairing for Kansas City; getting Sherman turns its secondary into one of the best in league history. Marcus Peters is a two-time All-Pro with 14 interceptions in his first two seasons. Sherman, whom Seattle attempted to deal this offseason, may not have played at his peak last fall, but he’s still one of the game’s best corners and would give the team another island defender to turn their secondary into a no-fly zone — especially with Eric Berry lurking as a ballhawking center fielder.
Combining Donald and J.J. Watt would give the Texans potentially the greatest defensive line pass rush the NFL has ever seen. In 2015, the last year both were healthy, they combined for 28.5 sacks and 145 tackles. Opposing offensive lines would look like the remnants of a bee hive after a bear attack. Plus, the blockers they’d occupy would create the space Jadeveon Clowney needs to feast.
In this scenario, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie protests the team’s move to Las Vegas through internal, and obvious, sabotage. Mack and Von Miller, each former NFL Defensive Players of the Year, would create so much stress that non-Bronco offensive tackles unionize to protest their team-up. It would be a terrible year to be Philip Rivers’ ACLs; he’d spend at least two Sundays each year facing those two.