So much for the idea of the Rockets standing firm and running things back for the 2019-20 season.Houston, after initially being described in reports as a longshot in Russell Westbrook trade talks, landed the Oklahoma City star Thursday night, edging out other suitors like the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons. The move is undoubtedly a huge one: Westbrook joins the Rockets, while the rebuilding Thunder will take back an aging Chris Paul and pocket first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, along with two future pick swaps. If you’re counting, OKC has now picked up a total of eight first-round picks since this year’s draft alone.Many will likely struggle to understand this deal for Houston. But let’s not make this more complicated than it is: Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has always prioritized star talent over just about everything else. And Westbrook has that, even if he might make for a questionable fit.The first question that comes to mind: Is it really worth it to hand the rock to a ball-dominant player who is so much less efficient than James Harden is? Especially when that player occupies the same point-guard position, and can’t shoot the ball nearly as well as Paul, the man he’s replacing? The wide gap in defensive IQ between Paul and Westbrook is also worth pointing out, even if Westbrook’s athleticism is substantially greater than Paul’s ever was. (Maybe there’s a hope that Westbrook and Harden, longtime friends from their time in OKC, will play off each other well because of that prior experience together? Also: It’s hard to believe that the Thunder drafted three MVPs in a row, and now all three are on other rosters.)In Paul, the Rockets had a pretty steady secondary playmaker who could both play alongside Harden — even when they clashed — and maintain continuity with the same 1-on-1 playing style when the former MVP went to the bench for a breather. Houston mostly lived, and sometimes died, with that strategy — one that would have been tougher to deploy as Paul continued to slow down. One indication that Paul was beginning to lose a step: The cerebral point guard averaged 1.05 points per direct isolation play1Meaning a 1-on-1 play that results in a shot, a turnover or a foul. Among players with 250 such plays in each season. in 2016-17 and an NBA-high 1.15 points in 2017-18, according to data from Second Spectrum. But during the 2018-19 season, Paul saw his 1-on-1 numbers fall dramatically, down to 0.88 points per direct isolation.2Interestingly, Westbrook averaged 0.88 points per direct iso last season, too.But even with Paul slowing down, there are two areas where he still outplays Westbrook: He makes far fewer mistakes (Paul has a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio for his career, while Westbrook owns a 2-to-1 ratio), and he is vastly superior from the floor, having hit almost 38 percent from deep the past 10 seasons while Westbrook stands at just 31 percent over that span. That difference in shooting ability is a key distinction, given that the Rockets have been more reliant on the 3-point shot than any other NBA club in recent years.There are ways in which a move like this could pay off for Morey and the Rockets, though. Westbrook will turn 31 soon, and his relative durability the past few years is an obvious plus compared to Paul’s, who is 34 years old. (Paul’s contract expires a year sooner, but both deals carried roughly a $40 million annual price tag either way.) Westbrook will never be the shooter that Paul is, but Houston is banking on the fact that he’ll be just as good for the offense — if not better — because of his ability to create.There will be some other areas of concern, too. Harden and Westbrook rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA in turnovers3Another stat Westbrook and Harden rank No. 1 and No. 2 in: single-season usage rate. Westbrook’s 2016-17 MVP season marked the highest usage rate the league has ever seen, at 41.7 percent. Harden’s 40.5 percent mark this past season ranks as the second-highest usage rate of all time. the past three years, with more than 1,100 giveaways each in that window. And Westbrook has a tendency to call his own number at times when he’s ice cold — particularly in the playoffs, even when he has a capable superstar teammate to help shoulder some of the burden.Still, in our story on Westbrook earlier this week, we mentioned that the OKC star ranked near the top of the NBA in drives per game and shot a career-best 65 percent at the rim, all while throwing an NBA-high 802 passes that led to 3-point attempts. Between the Rockets’ ample spacing and their perimeter scoring threats — two things the Thunder lacked — Houston may benefit from Westbrook’s explosive athleticism on offense.Even if Westbrook continues to be highly productive — if not triple-double-a-night productive — there are still so many questions we’ll be curious about. Will his contributions on both ends outweigh the steadiness the Rockets generally got from the older Paul? (Especially when our early projections pegged Houston as the best team in the West still.) Will Houston become an even more predictable two-headed monster than before? And what if this still isn’t enough to put the Rockets over the top?We know Morey’s gambling tendencies by now, and he’s content to get these answers later and change things down the line if need be. For now, though, the Rockets have another star alongside Harden, and if nothing else, it figures to make the team very interesting — probably even more than before.
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Joshua Boyle walks through the airport after arriving with his wife and three children at Toronto Pearson International Airport, nearly 5 years after he and his wife were abducted in Afghanistan in 2012 by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 13 October 2017. Photo: ReutersA US-Canadian couple freed in Pakistan this week, nearly five years after being abducted in Afghanistan, returned to Canada on Friday where the husband said one of his children had been murdered and his wife had been raped.American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, were kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012 by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network. They arrived in Canada with three of their children.“Obviously, it will be of incredible importance to my family that we are able to build a secure sanctuary for our three surviving children to call a home,” Boyle told reporters after arriving at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, wearing a black sweatshirt and sporting a beard.Pakistani troops rescued the family in the northwest of the country, near the Afghan border, this week. The United States has long accused Pakistan of failing to fight the Taliban-allied Haqqani network.“The stupidity and the evil of the Haqqani network in the kidnapping of a pilgrim … was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter,” Boyle said, reading from a statement, in a calm voice.“And the stupidity and evil of the subsequent rape of my wife, not as a lone action, but by one guard, but assisted by the captain of the guard and supervised by the commandant.”He did not elaborate on what he meant by “pilgrim”, or on the murder or rape. Coleman was not at the news conference.Boyle said the Taliban, who he referred to by their official name – the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – had carried out an investigation last year and conceded that the crimes against his family were perpetrated by the Haqqani network.He called on the Taliban “to provide my family with the justice we are owed”.“God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network,” said an exhausted-looking Boyle.He did not take questions from reporters.The family travelled from Pakistan to London and then to Toronto.Boyle provided a written statement to the Associated Press on one of their flights saying his family had “unparalleled resilience and determination.”AP reported that Coleman wore a tan-colored headscarf and sat with the two older children in the business class cabin. Boyle sat with their youngest child on his lap.US State Department officials were on the plane with them, AP added.‘HELPING VILLAGERS’One of the children was in poor health and had to be force-fed by their Pakistani rescuers, Boyle told AP.Reuters could not independently confirm the details.They are expected to travel to Boyle’s family home in Smiths Falls, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Ottawa, to be reunited with his parents.Canada has been actively engaged with Boyle’s case at all levels and would continue to support the family, the Canadian government said in a statement.“At this time, we ask that the privacy of Mr Boyle’s family be respected,” it said.The journey home was complicated by Boyle’s refusal to board a US military aircraft in Pakistan, according to two US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. Boyle instead asked to be flown to Canada.But Boyle said he never refused to board any mode of transportation that would bring him closer to home.Boyle had once been married to the sister of an inmate at the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The marriage ended and the inmate was later released to Canada.The families of the captives have been asked repeatedly why Boyle and Coleman had been backpacking in such a dangerous region. Coleman was pregnant at the time.Boyle told the news conference he had been in Afghanistan helping “villagers who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where no NGO, no aid worker, and no government” had been able to reach.The Taliban and Haqqani network share the same goals of forcing out foreign troops and ousting the US-backed government in Kabul but they are distinct organisations with separate command structures.Read More: US-Canadian couple still in Pakistan after release from Taliban