HOUSTON — Chris Paul, having heard the questions about how he will fit with James Harden in a backcourt pairing of elite, ball-dominant players, addressed the subject with humor Friday afternoon during his introductory news conference with the Houston Rockets.
Asked what he heard from Harden that helped persuade him to opt to join the Rockets, Paul quipped: “It was a basketball in the room, and we were fighting over it.”
“Seriously, we talked about the ultimate goal, and that’s winning [a title],” Paul, a nine-time All-Star, said after the laughter died down. “Neither one of us have had the opportunity to do that. We talked about how good that would feel. That’s probably what I’m most excited about, is to be on this journey with somebody else who wants it as bad as I do.
“It’s not about me coming here just to help him. He’s going to help me. We’re going to help each other. We’re going to help this team hopefully get to where we want to be.”
For all of Paul’s individual accomplishments, he has yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs. His competitive desire played a major role in his decision to leave the LA Clippers after six seasons.
Paul was sent to the Rockets in a blockbuster deal June 28 after he made it clear to Clippers management he would opt out of the final season of his contract and sign with Houston in free agency this summer if Los Angeles didn’t trade him.
The move pairs two of the NBA’s premier pick-and-roll initiators and offensive orchestrators. It also means Paul and Harden — the 2017 MVP runner-up after averaging 29.1 points and a league-leading 11.2 assists per game in his first season as a point guard under coach Mike D’Antoni — will have to figure out how to share playmaking responsibilities. Each will probably play off the ball more than he has in the past.
“It’s definitely going to be an adjustment, but I’m excited about it,” said Paul, 32, who averaged 18.1 points and 9.2 assists last season, numbers just shy of his career norms. “I’m truly excited about it. That’s the coach’s problem over here, to figure that out. I think coach said it: When you want to win, you’ll do whatever it takes. I know James has that; I know I do. Whoever is in our locker room from day one, we’re going to talk about sacrificing and doing whatever you have to do to help us win.”
Harden, speaking after his camp in the Phoenix area, said he did not anticipate having to make major changes to his game to play with Paul.
“It’s added another talented Hall of Famer, soon to be, and when you got great talent and great IQ around you, it makes it easier for yourself and your teammates,” Harden said. “Obviously, we all know how smart he is. He sees things before they happen, and when you got a guy like that on your team it makes you step your game up even more.”
“We’ll figure things out, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. If I stay up at night, it’s because I’m excited.”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni
As Paul said, it’s “all about winning” at this point in his career, particularly after the “Lob City” Clippers era ended without the sort of postseason success many anticipated when he was traded to Los Angeles and teamed with Blake Griffin.
Harden and teammates Trevor Ariza and Bobby Brown — who both played with Paul on the New Orleans Hornets — heavily recruited Paul. The new co-stars have talked every day since the trade with the Clippers. Harden and Paul were part of a group of Rockets who worked out together last week in Las Vegas, fueling Paul’s anticipation for the season.
“I haven’t been this excited about basketball in a while, to tell you the truth,” Paul said. “It’s a new start, it’s a fresh start, and the timing couldn’t be better for myself along with James.”
D’Antoni, who noted that Paul has the green light to take the midrange shots the Rockets normally avoid because of his efficiency in that area, downplayed the difficulty of making the Harden-Paul dynamic click.
“We’ve got two of the best playmakers in the league from last year, if not the best,” said D’Antoni, who earned the Coach of the Year award after the 55-win Rockets ranked second in the league in offensive efficiency (111.8 points per 100 possessions) last season. “They’ll play off each other. They can both shoot, they can do everything. So that’s easy. And we’ll run what we run, and then we’ll tweak things as we know each other’s games and how the synergy is between the players.
“We’ll figure things out, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. If I stay up at night, it’s because I’m excited, not because I have to worry about anything.”
During Houston’s second-round playoff exit at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, Harden appeared fatigued late in a Game 5 overtime loss and in a miserable performance in a lopsided Game 6 home loss. In the aftermath, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey vowed to ease the burden on his superstar. Morey is confident that acquiring Paul helps push the Rockets into the ranks of legitimate contenders.
“This is a moment that our whole organization has been working towards to get ourselves back to a championship,” Morey said. “We really think this historic pairing of Chris Paul with James Harden and the great players we have around them is one that really gives us an unbelievable chance of getting back and getting our third championship. I say historic pairing because no one’s ever put together two players this smart, this complementary, especially two of the best passers in NBA history, on one team.”
ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss contributed to this report.