Still, Paul’s motivation for opting into the last year of his contract so the Los Angeles Clippers could orchestrate his trade to Houston was clear. He and the Rockets believe that adding him to a team headlined by James Harden gives both parties a much better shot to chase a title.
"It’s not just about me coming here to help him," Paul said. "He’s going to help me. We’re going to help each other, and we’re going to help this team hopefully get to where we want to be at."
The Rockets haven’t won a championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1994-95, and knew they had to add another superstar to this team which was ousted by the Spurs in the second round last season to have any chance to get another one.
"This is a moment that our whole organization has been working toward to get ourselves back to a championship," general manager Daryl Morey said. "We really do think this is a historic pairing with Chris Paul and James Harden and the great players we have around them … that really gives us an unbelievable chance at getting back and getting our third championship."
Not only has Paul never won a title in his 12-year career, he’s been widely criticized for his inability to advance past the second round of the playoffs. In the past when that fact was brought up, it would invariably elicit a prickly response from Paul.
That wasn’t the case on Friday when Paul smiled and joked throughout a news conference that preceded a party where thousands of fans including "Modern Family" star Rico Rodriguez welcomed him to the team.
"Really? I didn’t know," he deadpanned when his playoff shortcomings were broached by a reporter.
Then he got serious.
"I’m ultra-competitive," he said. "There’s no reason in playing unless you’re playing to win … we have one goal here and it’s to win."
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni looked absolutely giddy, smiling broadly almost the entire time he sat next to Paul as the nine-time All-Star discussed joining the team.
"You hate to play against him," D’Antoni said. "But I’ve been on his side and I’ve been against him and it’s much better to be on his side. He brings a special type of competitiveness. He’ll be on my butt, too. We’ll all get better with him."
Paul, who said he once thought he’d never leave Los Angeles, feels rejuvenated since the trade and expressed his excitement at not only playing for the Rockets, but also all the work that he’ll have to put in before a game is ever played.
"I haven’t been this excited about basketball in a while to tell you the truth," Paul said.
He’s been one of the top point guards in the NBA over the last decade, averaging 18.7 points, 9.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals over his career. His role could evolve a bit in Houston after Harden took over as the team’s point guard with great success in D’Antoni’s first year with the Rockets last season.
How these two point guards will work together next season has been a major point of discussion since Paul was acquired for seven players, including Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams.
Paul had not one, but two comical responses to those worried about how they’ll share the ball. The first one came unprompted when he was asked what he and Harden have talked about since he joined the team.
"There was a basketball in the room and we was fighting over it," he said before cracking up.
Later, he was specifically asked how he thinks the pairing will work out.
"It’s definitely going to be an adjustment," he said. "But I’m excited about it. I’m truly excited about it."
Then, after a short pause, he turned to D’Antoni and said: "That’s coach’s problem."
In a room that contained not only his wife and two children, but also numerous members of his extended family and several friends, he talked about how he has already been embraced by the team and said that he’s been with Trevor Ariza and Bobby Brown every day.
And then he finally put aside the jokes and got down to the meat of his conversations with Harden.
"We talked about the ultimate goal and that’s winning. Neither one of us have had the opportunity to do that," Paul said. "We talked about how good that would feel, and that’s probably what I’m most excited about is to be on this journey with somebody else that wants it as bad as I do."