LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said this week that his team was a “hamstring” away from the Western Conference title last season.
The hamstring he was referring to was Chris Paul‘s, with the injury the latest setback for the point guard whose illustrious career at times has seemed cursed.
After signing Paul to a four-year, $160 million extension in the offseason, the Rockets hope the bad luck ends this year and he’ll help them to their first title since 1995.
“Chris deserves a championship,” Fertitta said. “It is time. But luck is luck and it just takes a little luck in sports. You have to set yourself up to be one of the best and then you need a few things to fall into place.”
The Rockets led the Warriors 3-2 in the conference finals last season before Paul’s season ended with a hamstring injury in Game 5. Golden State won the next two games to advance to the Finals and go on to win the title.
Paul scoffed at the notion that his ill-timed hamstring injury was the worst thing that’s happened to him.
“If that’s the toughest thing, then I’m living a real good life,” he said. “But it’s definitely up there as far as basketball goes, as far as not being able to influence the outcome. If that doesn’t do something to you then you’re in the wrong profession.”
But that disappointing end to Paul’s first season in Houston was far from the first time things have gone awry at the worst times for the nine-time All-Star. He was dogged for years about his inability to escape the second round of the playoffs after making nine trips to the postseason without ever reaching the conference finals before finally breaking through with the Rockets last season.
Paul looked sure to advance in 2015 when he and the Clippers were up 3-1 over the Rockets in the conference semifinals. But they were routed in Game 5 before squandering a 19-point second-half lead in a loss at home in Game 6 and being eliminated in Houston in Game 7.
No one with the Rockets would go as far as to say that Paul might be cursed, but everyone agreed that he’s had more than his share of bad luck. Coach Mike D’Antoni feels for Paul. But this isn’t the first time he’s worked with a superstar point guard with problems such as these.
D’Antoni coached Steve Nash for four seasons on those great teams in Phoenix that were never able to win a title. Nash was named MVP twice, but finished an 18-year career without a ring.
“(Paul’s) had a remarkable career, so I don’t know how bad of luck it is,” D’Antoni said. “Just sometimes at the end of a season it doesn’t quite work out. Steve Nash was that way where he had just weird stuff happen. It happens.”
“But you keep knocking on the door and eventually it will (open),” D’Antoni continued.
So, does Paul spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about what might have been if he’d been healthy for those last two games last season?
“It sounds crazy but unfortunately I’ve had a lot of different adversities and challenges and whatnot,” he said. “And I know it sounds cliche, but it only made me stronger mentally and everything like that. So for me … I don’t even think about it now.”
As the owner of Golden Nugget casinos across the country, Fertitta knows a thing or two about luck. He also knows about heartbreak as a sports fan after cheering on the Houston Oilers for years only to see them fall short of winning a title again and again before leaving for Tennessee.
“The Oilers kept trying to kick the door down and it never happened,” he said wistfully.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t optimistic that it’s time for the tide to turn for Paul, who is entering his 14th NBA season. But Paul doesn’t think of it that way. Of course, his goal is to win a title and put his years of coming up short behind him. He just doesn’t see it as him being due for some good fortune.
“Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen and if that’s the bad luck that I’ve had there’s some people who have had a lot worse luck than I’ve had,” he said. “So, for me … whatever happens you move on and you go to the next thing.”