Reversing his decision to head to the free agent market, Chris Paul has opted into the final year of his contract as part of a trade. The Clippers have sent Paul to the Rockets in exchange for a massive trade package, Houston confirmed today in a press release. The Clippers will receive guards Patrick Beverley, Louis Williams, DeAndre Liggins, and Darrun Hilliard, forwards Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, and Kyle Wiltjer, the Rockets 2018 first round pick (top-three protected), and $661,000 in cash, which was the amount that Paul agreed to reduce his trade bonus.

The original construct of the trade had the Rockets sending Beverley, Dekker and Williams to the Clippers, but even with them putting Harrell in the deal, that would not have been enough in terms of salary leaving for them to acquire Paul due to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. So the Rockets spent the day acquiring players with non-guaranteed salaries to make the deal happening, landing Liggins from Dallas, Hilliard from Detroit, forward Ryan Kelly from Atlanta, Forward Shawn Long from Philadelphia, and guard Tim Quarterman from Portland, all for cash considerations. By structuring this deal as they did, and making it before the start of the new league year on July 1st, the Rockets will remain over the salary cap, yet still have access to mid-level exception ($8.4 million) and the bi-annual exception ($3.3 million) to use in free agency.

The move is a bombshell, particularly since Paul had been expected to reach free agency this weekend — a report last week indicated that he had made the decision to opt out of his contract. However, CP3 had yet to formally file the paperwork to exercise that early termination option. Instead, he’ll waive the ETO, which will allow him to play out the final year of his deal and become eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2018, unless he signs an extension with Houston before next July. Paul is currently set to earn $24,268,959 in 2017/18. Because he is being acquired in a trade, Paul is still eligible for a five-year deal worth an estimated $205 million from the Rockets after the 2017-18 season. If the nine-time All-Star had opted out and signed with a team other than the Clippers in free agency, the most that team could have offered was a four-year deal worth just more than $152 million.

According to the Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Clippers and Rockets reached an agreement after Paul informed L.A. that he intended to sign with Houston in free agency. From the Clippers’ perspective, the trade with Houston is a way to recoup some value for the star point guard and avoid losing him for nothing. Meanwhile, the Rockets will no longer have to worry about trying to dump a salary or two in order to create enough room for a maximum salary slot for Paul. The Clippers made the deal in part due to their reluctance to give Paul a five-yea max contract, which would in effect be paying him $45 million in the final season, when he would be 37 years old.

The Rockets, who were reported on Tuesday to be a “serious” threat in the Paul sweepstakes, have now secured their man before the free agent period even gets underway. The club’s star-studded backcourt will create an intriguing dynamic, since Harden is coming off an MVP-caliber season in which he served as Houston’s primary ball-handler. According to Wojnarowski, Paul and Harden were “determined” to play together, so the duo is presumably unconcerned about how the ball-handling duties will be shared going forward.

It will be interesting to see if Rockets president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has anything else up his sleeve for the team in July. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, the club is still on the lookout for a third star to complement Paul and Harden. Houston was reportedly involved in Paul George trade talks, though the club surrendered some valuable assets in today’s move, so it’s not clear whether Morey still has enough pieces to interest the Pacers. There is now also a chance they could attempt to add Carmelo Anthony, though with Phil Jackson no longer in charge of the Knicks, the odds that they will be able to add him if he is bought out seem to be unlikely.

As for the Clippers, it’s not clear yet if today’s deal will be the first domino to fall in a full-fledged rebuilding process for the club, or merely a retooling of the roster. In Beverley and Williams, the Clips will acquire a pair of effective and affordable veteran guards who figure to step into key roles right away. Dekker is more of a wild card, but the 23-year-old big man flashed some upside in a rotational role for the Rockets last season, as did Harrell.

Sources told ESPN’s Michael Eaves that the relationship between Paul and Doc Rivers, the Clippers coach and president of basketball operations, had deteriorated rapidly since the Clippers acquired Austin Rivers — Doc’s son — during the 2015-16 season. Sources told Eaves that Paul had become unhappy with Doc Rivers over the preferential treatment of his son over other players on the roster. Sources told Eaves that Doc Rivers would yell at players for certain things during games and practices but would not get on Austin Rivers in the same manner for similar transgressions. In addition, Paul lost both trust and faith in his coach after Doc Rivers ultimately declined a trade last season that would have brought Carmelo Anthony and Sasha Vujacic to the Clippers in exchange for Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and Austin Rivers. Doc has refuted these reports, citing that in the past rumors had circulated that Paul no longer wanted to play with both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, with his son now being the latest to join the list.

Paul, 32, has performed impressively since the Clippers acquired him in a 2011 trade with New Orleans. Since the deal, he has made the All-NBA first team three times, the All-NBA second team two times and the All-Defensive first team six times. He averaged 18.7 points, 9.8 assists and 2.4 steals over his six seasons in Los Angeles. But the Clippers’ shortcoming during that span has been playoff success. Despite having stars such as Paul, Griffin and Jordan, as well as the addition in 2013 of Doc Rivers as coach, Los Angeles hasn’t made it out of the second round in the past six seasons and has lost in the first round in each of the past two campaigns.

Griffin informed the Clippers last week that he is opting out of the last year of his contract to explore free agency. JJ Redick also is a free agent. The Clippers are now focused on retaining Griffin, sources told Shelburne. They’ll have an advantage because they can offer a fifth year, while other teams can’t offer more than four years.

To stay under the league roster limit of 20 players, the Clippers officially released Paul Pierce, who had already announced his retirement.

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