Chris Paul helped lead Houston to regular-season success, but falling short in the playoffs may temper the reception he receives when he’s introduced with the Thunder’s starters on Monday.
After an offseason of furious player movement — including eight 2019 All-Stars changing teams — one intriguing storyline of this NBA season will be how players are received by fans when they return to the city they left.
Some will be easier to predict than others. Kyrie Irving in Boston? Won’t be subtle. Same with Anthony Davis in New Orleans. Kawhi Leonard, on the other hand, should receive a hero’s welcome when he returns to Toronto despite breaking the hearts of Raptors’ fans when he left for the Clippers.
Paul’s return is the first stop on the NBA’s Reunion Tour, and we’ll gauge each of the reunions with a “Fan Hospitality Meter.”
Here is the Reunion Tour’s schedule:
Thunder guard Chris Paul returns to Houston
Before he left: CP3’s hamstring strain that sidelined him for the final two games of the 2018 Western Conference finals will always be one of the great what-ifs in Houston sports history. He was playing at a superstar level at the time, but he slipped significantly last season, when the Rockets’ iso-heavy offense suddenly didn’t suit him so well. There was some well-documented creative tension with James Harden, but that isn’t why the Rockets traded him. They pounced on the opportunity to get a talent upgrade when Russell Westbrook surprisingly became available.
Anticipated fan reaction: Rockets fans will probably welcome Paul in a warm, respectful fashion. But it’s not like his return to Houston will be an emotional event for those few who actually are in their Toyota Center seats before tip-off.
— Tim MacMahon
Still to come
Before he left: Walker is a cherished member of the Charlotte community after eight seasons with the Hornets. He is the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer and led the Hornets to the playoffs twice. Walker was heading into free agency, and the Hornets weren’t going to offer the supermax, which may or may not have kept him in Charlotte. Once it was determined Walker was headed to Boston, a sign-and-trade was arranged to bring Terry Rozier to Charlotte.
Anticipated fan reaction: The bonds were strong between Walker the Charlotte community. “The hardest part for me is having to leave the city and organization that I’ve been a part of for eight years,” Walker told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt after the trade. “The organization that gave me my first opportunity to go from a boy to a man in this league. Charlotte, the place that I love very much. It was a really tough decision.” It should be an emotional moment for both sides.
— Eric Woodyard
Before he left: It all started in late January of 2019, and it escalated quickly. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Zach Lowe and Ramona Shelburne reported that Porzingis met with the Knicks’ management and expressed discontent with losing and the franchise’s overall direction. At the time, Porzingis was not playing due to an ACL tear. Porzingis gave the Knicks the impression he wanted to be traded. Two hours later, the Mavericks and Knicks were nearing a trade to deal Porzingis to Dallas in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr. and taking on the contracts of DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews. The Knicks also sent Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to the Mavs.
Anticipated fan reaction: Porzingis’ tenure with the Knicks wasn’t completely smooth sailing. When he was drafted fourth in 2015, New York fans booed the selection. Knicks fans can hold a grudge, and coming full circle back to those boos wouldn’t be shocking.
— Malika Andrews
Before he left: Conley was the last man left standing from Memphis’ beloved “Core Four,” having seen the Grizzlies bid farewell to fellow Grit ‘n Grind mainstays Zach Randolph and Tony Allen a couple of summers ago and trade Marc Gasol to Toronto before last season’s deadline. It became clear to Conley that the time had come for him to move on from Memphis, where he hoped to spend his entire career, especially after he watched Gasol win a ring with the Raptors. The Grizzlies’ lottery luck that allowed them to land Ja Morant with the No. 2 overall pick ensured that Conley would be traded, and the Jazz jumped on the opportunity to seal a deal they tried to make before the deadline, sending rebuilding Memphis a package headlined by a pair of first-round picks.
Anticipated fan reaction: There will be tears shed as Grizzlies fans shower Conley with love. He will always be considered a legend in Memphis and will certainly be treated as such when he returns to FedExForum, where his No. 11 will one day hang from the rafters.
— Tim MacMahon
Before they left: Parting with a treasure trove of five first-round picks and the right to swap two more first-round picks for Paul George wasn’t easy for the Clippers. But having to part with the promising point guard Gilgeous-Alexander made the haul the Clippers gave up feel even more enormous. The Clippers were extremely high on SGA, and they loved the popular Gallinari, who also was part of the deal and beloved in the locker room. But SGA’s return to Staples Center should only remind the Clippers of how promising his future is and what they had to give up.
Anticipated fan reaction: Clippers fans should give SGA and Gallo a warm reception. The two were a big part of last season’s overachieving bunch, and fans should show their appreciation for that and how the two helped pave the way for the Clippers to usher in a new era.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
Jimmy Butler thinks some people have the wrong idea about him and clarifies that he doesn’t care who the Heat build around.
Before he left: When the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Butler last November, they thought he was the final piece they needed to become a championship team. They were nearly right. If Kawhi Leonard’s iconic 3-point shot from the corner inside Scotiabank Arena doesn’t somehow fall through the basket, perhaps the Sixers win that game and go on to win their first championship in more than 30 years. But it did, of course, and Philadelphia saw its season end in utter heartbreak instead. Butler then wound up leaving Philadelphia this summer, going to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade for guard Josh Richardson, part of the latest dramatic makeover of Philadelphia’s roster over the past few years.
Anticipated fan reaction: It’s likely Butler will be well-received in Philadelphia — though given the city’s reputation, it’s never exactly certain how things will go.
— Tim Bontemps
Nov. 23: Pelicans forward Derrick Favors returns to Utah
Before he left: For much of Favors’ 8 1/2 seasons in a Utah Jazz jersey, the big man remained cool, calm and collected as his name was repeatedly linked to trade rumors. Finally, the Jazz dealt him this offseason by sending him to New Orleans. Favors continues to express his love for Utah. He ranks fourth in franchise history in total rebounds, seventh in blocks and 10th in games played. Favors can now play his natural center position in New Orleans, but he played a pivotal role in Utah’s resurgence from a 25-win team in 2013-14 to making three consecutive playoff appearances the past three seasons.
Anticipated fan reaction: It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jazz put together a short tribute for Favors when he returns.
— Eric Woodyard
Nov. 27: Nets guard Kyrie Irving returns to Boston
Kyrie Irving shares that he struggled with the death of his grandfather and that demeanor carried over into his game and impacted his teammates.
Before he left: Last October, Irving declared during a season-ticket holder event that he would remain n Boston as a free agent “if you’ll have me.” Things basically went downhill from there. The Celtics spent the season failing to live up to their lofty preseason expectations, culminating in Boston’s lackluster loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. By the time the series ended, everyone knew what Irving once said no longer applied. And, come June 30, it was official: Irving left as a free agent, teaming up with Kevin Durant on the Brooklyn Nets, while Kemba Walker replaced him in Boston.
Anticipated fan reaction: Of all the players making their respective returns to various cities across the league this season, none is more certain to get a specific reaction than the vitriol Irving will receive from the Boston faithful after the way the past year played out.
— Tim Bontemps
Before he left: On paper, the offseason additions of Bogdanovic and Mike Conley Jr. put the Utah Jazz in the spotlight with one of the deeper rosters in the league. After averaging a career-best 18.0 points off 49.7 percent shooting in 81 games for Indiana last season, Bogdanovic inked a four-year, $73 million deal in Utah this summer. He also proved his ability to stretch the floor after shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc while shouldering the load and still leading the squad to the playoffs, following the injury of All-Star guard Victor Oladipo.
Anticipated fan reaction: Indianapolis is a diehard basketball community that isn’t always kind to players outside of its fan base, but Bogdanovic was well-respected for the work he put in for the Pacers, plus that toughness that’s beloved in the Midwest. It certainly won’t be a Paul George situation where fans react to him negatively.
— Eric Woodyard
Nov. 27: Lakers center Anthony Davis returns to New Orleans
Before he left: Davis was the best player in Pelicans franchise history, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds over six seasons while no other player in the NBA has a streak longer than three. But after just one playoff series win in his first six seasons, Davis decided he wanted out. Davis started the exit process when he let the franchise know before the trade deadline that he would not re-sign as a free agent. His seven-year tenure in New Orleans came to an end this summer when he was dealt to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a slew of picks.
Anticipated fan reaction: While Davis’ return to New Orleans won’t have the same pizzazz with Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson on the shelf, New Orleans fans will certainly remember how Davis left the Smoothie King Center last season. In his final game as a Pelican, Davis sported a “That’s All Folks” shirt as he walked into the arena and sat on the bench as he missed the game with back spasms. Davis likely will not be received warmly.
— Andrew Lopez
Dec. 11: Clippers guard Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto
Before he left: Leonard was a Raptor for just one season, but he helped deliver Toronto’s first NBA championship, and what a ride it was. Masai Ujiri took a risk by sending one of the franchise’s most popular players ever in DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for Leonard, and it paid off. One of the most memorable moments was when Leonard’s buzzer-beater bounced off the rim four times before falling in to eliminate the 76ers and send the Raptors to the Eastern Conference finals.
Anticipated fan reaction: When Leonard was booed on opening night at a Clippers home game by Lakers fans who filled Staples Center, several Raptors fans and Canadians in general took to Twitter to say how Leonard would never be treated that way up north. Leonard should receive nothing but love when he makes his return to Toronto. He received an enthusiastic welcome in Vancouver when the Clippers played there in the preseason, but it will be nothing compared to this December night when Leonard is expected to be welcomed like a hero.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
Before he left: For all of the attention that was paid to Kyrie Irving’s pending departure from the Celtics, Horford was almost always seen as a lock to come back, either by picking up his option for the final year of his contract or declining it and agreeing to a new deal with Boston. Reality, however, turned out to be a bit different. Horford decided to opt out of the final year of his deal in June, and it quickly became apparent he and the Celtics wouldn’t be agreeing on a return. Then, when free agency began, Horford stunned much of the basketball world by choosing to head down Interstate 95 and join Boston’s arch rivals, the Philadelphia 76ers, pairing with Joel Embiid to give the Sixers one of the league’s best one-two punches in the paint. And while the Celtics were able to recover from losing Irving by signing Kemba Walker, they had no way of replacing Horford’s ability to serve as a Swiss Army knife at both ends of the court.
Anticipated fan reaction: Even though Horford chose to go to a division rival, it’s hard to see him getting a negative reaction when he returns to Boston after never making a wrong step during his three seasons with the Celtics.
— Tim Bontemps
Dec. 22: Hornets guard Terry Rozier returns to Boston
Before he left: No one may have exemplified Boston’s awkward 2018-19 season more than Rozier. He was far from the biggest name on the roster. But after becoming a bit of a local celebrity during Boston’s run to the Eastern Conference finals the season before while Kyrie Irving was hurt — Rozier struck up a surprising friendship with former New England Patriots star Drew Bledsoe and acquired his own nickname, “Scary Terry” — Rozier became an afterthought as Irving’s backup. That, in turn, led to some frustration, as well as the likelihood that, once free agency hit, Rozier would go elsewhere to become a starter … unless Boston needed him to replace Irving. It turned out, though, that things worked out well for both sides. When Irving left, the Celtics quickly moved to sign Kemba Walker — and used Rozier’s restricted free agent rights to help turn the deal into a sign-and-trade that allowed Charlotte to pay Rozier $58 million over three years and give him both the starting job and financial security he craved.
Anticipated fan reaction: Rozier already played in Boston once during the preseason, and it was smiles all around. When he comes back during the regular season, it won’t be any different.
— Tim Bontemps
Dec. 22: Clippers forward Paul George returns to Oklahoma City
Before he left: He didn’t ask to be traded to OKC, but the Thunder made a deal for him anyway with the seemingly impossible hope to persuade him to stay. And against all expectations and outside forces, he did, declaring alongside Russell Westbrook with cigars in their hands: “If you didn’t quite get it … I’m here to stay.” George elevated every part of his game in OKC, playing, by his account, the best basketball of his career, becoming an MVP candidate. But the lasting image of George’s tenure in OKC will be stamped with his flailing arm reaching for Damian Lillard right before Lillard’s 3-pointer eliminated the Thunder in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. Lillard then waved goodbye to the Thunder as we know them.
Anticipated fan reaction: George’s trade request set the wheels in motion for the dismantling of the Thunder, and by extension, got Westbrook traded as well. Some fans will hold bitterness for George signing with OKC, seemingly setting them up for multiple runs at contending, and then bailing out a year later. But in reality, George’s re-signing was a gift in every way. He could’ve left in free agency, leaving the Thunder with nothing in return. Instead, while departing under unseemly circumstances, he leaves the Thunder with a treasure trove of draft capital.
— Royce Young
Before he left: Brogdon started for the Bucks for the majority of the 2018-19 season, but he was diagnosed with a plantar fascia injury that sidelined him for the first two rounds of the playoffs. He rejoined the team in the Eastern Conference Finals. Over the past three seasons, Brogdon played himself into the $80 million contract range. Heading into free agency, many believed the Bucks would struggle to justify matching such a significant offer sheet, considering the fact they were also aiming to re-sign Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. Brogdon wound up signing a four-year, $85 million deal with the Indiana Pacers.
Anticipated fan reaction: Brogdon was beloved in Milwaukee. Anything short of an ovation for Brogdon’s return would be surprising, and the Fiserv Forum crowd will more than likely give him a warm welcome.
— Malika Andrews
Before he left: Over the past few seasons, Richardson became the latest success story from Miami’s vaunted player development program. A second-round pick in 2015 after a four-year career at the University of Tennessee, Richardson turned himself into one of the better defensive guards in the league with the Heat — not to mention slowly becoming a more well-rounded offensive player along the way. He was rewarded for his efforts with a four-year, $42 million extension early in September 2017 — a deal that quickly made him into one of the league’s more intriguing trade assets if the Heat were ever going to get their hands on another star player. That wound up finally happening this summer, when Richardson became the carrot with which Miami was able to execute a sign-and-trade with the 76ers to bring Jimmy Butler to South Beach. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was thrilled to get their hands on Richardson, whose low salary, length and defensive instincts — not to mention being a career 37 percent 3-point shooter — made him a perfect fit alongside Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Al Horford in Philadelphia’s newly renovated lineup.
Anticipated fan reaction: There should be nothing but love for Richardson, a hard-working player on the court who never asked to leave and helped the Heat finally get some star power again by being part of the Butler trade.
— Tim Bontemps
Before they left: When Ball was a star freshman at UCLA, his father, LaVar Ball, famously spoke it into existence that his son would complete his destiny and be drafted by the Lakers. Ball was supposed to be the centerpiece of a Showtime reboot with Magic Johnson calling the shots and Ball, Ingram and Hart coming along for the ride. When LeBron James arrived in the summer of 2018, the timeline for expected success was accelerated, and by the time James told ESPN in December it would be “amazing” if L.A. traded for Anthony Davis, everyone knew the young core’s days were numbered. All three ended the season on the injured list, with Hart missing the last 11 games, Ingram missing the final 19 and Ball sitting the final 35 games before being sent to New Orleans in June.
Anticipated fan reaction: If the Lakers are rolling in the New Year, there should be nothing but cheers for this young group that made this season’s team possible in the Davis trade. But if the Lakers are struggling and the Pelicans are surprising, it could be a strange scene at Staples Center with fans not quite sure what to do, like when James passed Michael Jordan in scoring last season and the moment fell flat because of the disappointing season.
— Dave McMenamin
Before he left: Whiteside was a classic example of a talented prospect who flamed out before being resuscitated in Miami. He literally wound up playing around the world — including Lebanon and China — before hooking back on with an NBA team when the Heat signed him in November 2014. By the end of the season, Whiteside had become a fixture in Miami’s rotation, gobbling up rebounds, blocking lots of shots and finally realizing the talent inside his massive 7-foot frame. He was eventually rewarded with a four-year max contract in the summer of 2016, and while he remained productive the past three seasons, he saw his minutes drop each season as he squabbled with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on a regular basis. Eventually, Miami shipped Whiteside out this summer in a salary dump, trading him to Portland for Maurice Harkless — whom the Heat later moved to the Los Angeles Clippers — and Meyers Leonard.
Anticipated fan reaction: Despite the way Whiteside’s time in Miami began, expect him to get a negative reception when he arrives on the shores of Biscayne Bay for the first time since the trade. Whiteside’s ups-and-downs came to symbolize Miami’s mediocrity in recent seasons, and that’s what his tenure will be remembered for.
— Tim Bontemps
Before he left: “The most important player in franchise history,” is how Westbrook has been described by Thunder general manager Sam Presti. Westbrook was the talisman for the first era of Thunder basketball, overseeing the evolution of a franchise as he simultaneously grew up right alongside it. He made history, he won awards, he won games. He planted his flag in the wake of Kevin Durant‘s departure, he gave a city confidence and hope, he represented something bigger than basketball. The Thunder have a firm footing in Oklahoma City and a globally recognized brand, and it’s been in large part because of Westbrook.
Anticipated fan reaction: The Thunder have never done a tribute video for a player, claiming it’s a policy of sorts that they don’t. That will almost assuredly change for Westbrook’s return. It will be an emotionally visceral night for everyone in the building. And then the game will start, Westbrook will beef with someone on the Thunder, snarl and cuss after a tough and-1, and everyone will say to themselves, “Oh, I get it now. … This is why everyone else didn’t like him.”
— Royce Young
Before he left: Russell became an All-Star in Brooklyn and got his career back on track after being traded by the Lakers. He only spent two seasons with the Nets, but he did help lead the organization back to the playoffs and helped create the culture that allowed the team to land Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Anticipated fan reaction: He should be welcomed back warmly by a city that watched him mature on and off the floor.
— Nick Friedell
Before he left: Rubio developed close friendships with teammates while embracing the Salt Lake City community on personal level only to see the organization move in the opposite direction with Mike Conley. Instead of pouting, Rubio moved on by getting to work earlier than usual this summer in Spain, signing a three-year, $51 million contract in Phoenix in July and then leading Spain to a FIBA World Cup title while capturing MVP honors.
Anticipated fan reaction: Rubio didn’t leave any bad blood in Utah, and in fact, he still wears Donovan Mitchell‘s signature Adidas sneakers, so it’s likely that he’ll receive a loud ovation when Phoenix rolls in town.
— Eric Woodyard
Before he left: Harris played only 87 games as a Clipper, but he was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder and helped the Clippers start down the path of an unexpected playoff run before being traded. He helped make a lot of games more competitive than many expected for what was a rebuilding team.
Anticipated fan reaction: Harris could ultimately help the Clippers win a title if all goes right. Harris was the main piece acquired in the trade that sent Blake Griffin to Detroit in 2018, helping the Clippers continue a big rebuild. And then Harris was traded in 2019 to Philadelphia in a deal that brought back Landry Shamet and two first-round picks, including Miami’s 2021 pick that went in the five first-round pick package sent to Oklahoma City for Paul George. Besides that, Harris’ likeable demeanor and steady consistency was always appreciated and should be received well in his return to L.A.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
March 24: Lakers guard Danny Green returns to Toronto
Before he left: When Kawhi Leonard was sent to Toronto last summer, Green’s inclusion was almost seen as an afterthought. But after he played through a groin injury — and, as a result, played below his usual standard — in his final season with the San Antonio Spurs, Green was back to his old self with the Raptors. He provided a potent combination of 3-point shooting, wing defense and championship experience to the Raptors during their run to the 2019 NBA title, and he was one of the personalities that had the biggest impact in the team’s locker room. And while he could’ve been back if Leonard had re-signed with the Raptors this summer, Green followed Leonard to Los Angeles — only joining the Lakers, rather than the Clippers — after Leonard did not.
Anticipated fan reaction: Green will undoubtedly get a standing ovation. He became a beloved figure in Toronto, immersing himself in the community and endearing himself to fans with his own podcast. He, like Leonard in December, will be celebrated for his part in Toronto’s first-ever championship in his first visit back there.
— Tim Bontemps
Before he left: It’s been a long 16 years for Carter and Raptors fans, as he’s gone from despised former star to an adored one. They say time heals all wounds, and that’s certainly the case here, as the animosity that surrounded Carter forcing himself out of town has slowly ebbed away — to the point that Carter was received with a thunderous standing ovation when he appeared at Scotiabank Arena during the NBA Finals.
Anticipated fan reaction: Carter will be given a resoundingly warm welcome in what is expected to be his final game in Toronto, and deservedly so. The ending may not have been great, but Carter arguably helped keep the Raptors in Toronto, and he has helped play a part in basketball’s explosion in Canada over the past 20 years.
— Tim Bontemps