James Harden and Chris Paul: What Went Wrong Between the Houston Rockets Duo?

Published 03/05/2021, 4:00 PM EST


James Harden is currently playing with two superstars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and is well on his way to win his first NBA championship this season. But before playing against the Brooklyn Nets, Harden had played with a host of other superstars as well.

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When ‘the Beard‘ was in the Houston Rockets, he played with superstars like Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook. But arguably his most eventful co-star in the Rockets was Chris Paul. Take a look at the dynamic relationship between both the superstars.

2017-18, the start of the Harden and Paul partnership

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After a pretty dismal run of 3 years with the Rockets, Dwight Howard decided to bail out of the Rockets and joined the Atlanta Hawks. GM Daryl Morey knew that the organization had to bring another superstar soon.

After 6 decent seasons with the Clippers and not finding significant success in the Playoffs, Chris Paul knew he had to go to a new place. Morey seized this opportunity and partnered Harden by trading in Chris Paul.

Paul was already one of the most revered point guards in the league, and it seemed like he could finally bring a championship to the Rockets alongside Harden.

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 11: Chris Paul, James Harden and Carmelo Anthony attend Black Ops Basketball Session at Life Time Athletic At Sky on September 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images)

The duo instantly kicked off to a fantastic start. They were 16-4 in the first 20 games and maintained their fantastic form in the regular season.

The Rockets shocked the league as they topped the Warriors’ ‘Big Three’ of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to be the first seed in the Western Conference with a record of 65 wins and 17 losses.

They carried on their fantastic form in the Playoffs as well. They steamrolled past the Timberwolves and the Jazz, defeating both the teams in 5 games, and advanced to the Conference Finals.

The three-headed monster of Warriors were next and everyone was eager to see what the Rockets would do. Defending champions started off in some style, taking a 2-1 lead in the series.

But the Rockets pulled off two amazing victories and had the opportunity to close out the series in 6 games. The Game 5 victory came at a huge cost, though, as Chris Paul suffered from a hamstring injury.

With Paul out of Game 6, the Dubs made a comeback and blew out Harden and the Rockets by 29 points. There was no coming back for Houston who missed Paul dearly and lost the 7th game by 8 points.

The messy departure of Chris Paul from the Rockets

A narrow 7-game defeat to the Warriors left a sour taste in the Rockets organization. If not for Chris Paul’s injury, the Rockets had a real opportunity to reach the Finals.

The Rockets were never the same, though. Houston, a team that had the best record in 17-18, suddenly looked like a shadow of themselves.

There was absolutely no connection between the players on the court, and there was a visible hesitation within the team.

There were rumblings of a possible feud between Chris Paul and James Harden. This didn’t help the team’s case as they ultimately finished with a record of 53-29 and were the 4th seed.

Chris Paul also saw a significant drop off in his production as he was averaging a career-low 15.6 points, 8.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game.

The Playoffs were the same. After a comfortable series against the Jazz, the Rockets faced the Warriors who dismantled Houston in 5 games.

Paul was seen as the weak link and was ultimately traded to the OKC Thunder for Russell Westbrook. It seemed like Paul was entering his twilight years in a rebuilding Thunder team.

James Harden and Chris Paul speak about a possible beef

Shortly after the Rockets traded Paul, Harden opened up about a feud between him and CP3. Harden clarified his stance about the same.

“I think everybody has that no matter what level of basketball you’re in, so, but all the negative media stuff and all that stuff that was going to run if it wasn’t true, you know, me and Chris had constant communication.

“And you know, we’re good setting was all that for you. It wasn’t for me because I knew the truth. I’m just, you know, we knew the truth.” 

He added, “Chris has been unbelievable these last two years. He’s helped me as a leader, as a mentor, just all that good stuff. I mean, I guess it’s like just the business.

“Things don’t work out, you know, and so he’s a great Dude, I have nothing to say about negative CP3. He’s a beast.”

Subsequently, CP3 also spoke about his relationship with Harden after his trade. He was pretty open about his equation with the Beard.

“I mean, like, we don’t talk, communicate not like that, but that’s all good. And well, I wish him the best. You know, I mean, any and everything he does, like, that’s one thing.

“I think people fail to realize sometimes in these situations, sometimes you have teammates, and it’s it is for that period of time, but that’s okay. You know, you can wish each other well, going forward.”

James Harden and CP3 after the 2018-19 season

But CP3 was simply not done. He proved his critics wrong and led a group of young players to a record of 44-28 and the 5th seed in a stacked Western Conference. The Thunder faced off against Harden and the Rockets in the 1st round.

Despite being the underdogs, Paul and the Thunder put on a show against the Rockets and if not for a couple of missed shots, almost beat Harden in a 7-game series.

Feb 13, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) reacts after making a shot against the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter at the Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets’ small-ball system was absolutely no match to the eventual champions Los Angeles Lakers, and it was the beginning of the end for the Rockets.

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Harden had enough of the Rockets organization and ultimately joined the Brooklyn Nets. Paul, on the other hand, left OKC Thunder and joined the Phoenix Suns.

With the Nets and the Suns, both Harden and Paul have thrived. Harden has embraced his role as a point guard alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving; while CP3 has embraced his role as a veteran leader in the Suns.

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With two new superb teams, it will be interesting to see a matchup between the Nets and the Suns.

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Aditya Mohapatra

695 articles

Aditya Mohapatra is a sports enthusiast who primarily covers the NBA for EssentiallySports. Having graduated in Mass Communication, he has prior experience in writing for ABP News, and has been writing for EssentiallySports since November 2020. This die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan feels that LeBron James is the best thing to have ever happened to the NBA, and will hold a healthy debate with anyone suggesting otherwise.

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