From the moment Chris Paul was traded to Oklahoma City in the final blockbuster deal of a wild past offseason the expectation was that he would not be with the Thunder for too long.
Paul, at 34 years old, didn’t fit the apparent timeline of the Thunder, who spent the summer dealing away stars to acquire draft picks and young players to kickstart a rebuild. There were rumblings that he might end up going to the Miami Heat to team up with his friend Jimmy Butler, but those never came to fruition. So, instead, Paul has seemingly embraced the Thunder for however long he will be there and is making the most of his time back in OKC, where he spent a year on the Hornets, leading them to a 25-19 record, which is good for seventh in the West, firmly in the middle tier of playoff contenders.
On an individual level, Paul is back to his Point God ways, playing at an All-Star level that not everyone fully believed he could return to at this point of his career. He’s averaging 17.0 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game on terrific efficiency (48.1/37.2/89.9 splits) and has shown the ability to take games over when needed — while ceding the spotlight to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at other times.
Paul recently spoke with Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated for a feature on his resurgence in OKC and how he’s found happiness despite not initially wanting to be traded there, and one of the most interesting quotes from the piece highlights how much he’s enjoying taking back the role of being the clear leader.
“My two seasons in Houston were unbelievable,” Paul says. “But some of the most exciting times for me this season have been just being in the moment. Those close games, having that ball, not so much having to shoot the shot, but being depended on. Those are the moments I live for.”
In Houston, those moments typically saw the ball end up in Harden’s hands so he could go to work, and understandably so, given that he’s one of the most gifted scorers the league’s ever seen. However, for a player like Paul who has had the ball in his hands in those situations at every other point of his life, it had to have been a bit of a strange adjustment and going somewhere like OKC where he can regain that responsibility seems to have invigorated him some.
There are other excellent nuggets in Nadkarni’s feature, including Paul noting once again that the Rockets had told him previously that summer he wasn’t going to be dealt to OKC and voicing some frustration with communication issues there. But the overarching theme is that he’s bought in totally with the Thunder for however long he’s there, and the result has been positive for all parties involved.