Los Angeles Clippers: James Harden
November, 20, 2012
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesChris Paul and the Clippers have had success against the Thunder, a trend they hope to continue.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick before the start of this season, most of the league's attention focused on the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was an understandable reaction. Many viewed the Lakers and the Thunder as the class of the Western Conference and saw the trade as Oklahoma City possibly conceding the conference to the Lakers.
Truth be told, the trade may have actually benefited the Los Angeles Clippers as much as the Lakers. Anyone who didn't view the Clippers as legitimate championship contenders before this season has had to re-evaluate their position following their 8-2 start, which has seen the Clippers beat the San Antonio Spurs (twice), Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and the Lakers.
No one was as shocked by Oklahoma City's blockbuster trade as much as Chris Paul. He called Harden when the trade went down on Oct. 28 and texted back and forth with his former Team USA teammate. Paul had switched teams before last season and the two discussed the transition and expectations of playing for a new team and in a new city.
Paul seemingly has close relationships with half the players in the league and certainly anyone he has ever called a teammate, and the trade genuinely took him by surprise because Oklahoma City had built what Paul hopes the Clippers can build in Los Angeles. They not only had a talented team, but a deep one that was tight off the court as well.
The thought of taking a sledgehammer to a vital piece of it and rebuilding the bench seemed strange.
Not that Paul and the Clippers mind it. They play coy when talk of being a championship contender comes up, but there's no question this team views itself as a championship team.
"We fear nobody," Matt Barnes said recently. "Teams need to fear us because of our depth and talent. We can't be awed by anybody."