The Houston Rockets may have James Harden and Russell Westbrook on their roster at the moment, but the two NBA superstars could soon be playing elsewhere. And if the franchise loses both perennial All-Stars, it will be because of one foolish mistake.
And ultimately, the Rockets have nobody to blame but themselves.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook want out of Houston
On paper, it looked like the Rockets made a home-run move by pairing Russell Westbrook with James Harden. After all, Westbrook averaged a triple-double in each of his final three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile, Harden led the NBA in scoring in back-to-back campaigns before his former Thunder teammate came on board.
In their first (and likely only) season together, the two guards put up monster numbers. Harden led the league in scoring at 34.3 points per game. Westbrook averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists in 57 games.
However, Houston once again fell well short in its NBA title quest. The Rockets barely beat the Thunder in the first round before falling to the LA Lakers in five games.
Since then, things have only gotten worse in Houston. Both Harden and Westbrook have made it clear that they want to play elsewhere. Still, the Rockets have yet to trade either highly-paid star.
The Rockets are going to lose their two biggest stars over a foolish mistake
If James Harden and Russell Westbrook stick to their guns, the Rockets will have no choice but to trade both of them. But the situation could have been avoided entirely if Houston didn’t make a foolish mistake.
After Mike D’Antoni elected not to renew his contract with the team, new general manager Rafael Stone and owner Tilman Fertitta hired Stephen Silas as the 14th head coach in franchise history. The move came as somewhat of a surprise considering he has never held that position elsewhere. And as it turns out, hiring Silas could be the reason the Rockets will end up losing their two biggest stars.
According to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, Fertitta wanted to bring on Jeff Van Gundy to coach the team. However, Harden and Westbrook had a different candidate in mind. The dynamic guards reportedly wanted the Rockets to hire Tyronn Lue, who brings a wealth of experience and a championship pedigree to the table.
Instead of listening to what his two stars wanted, Fertitta tried to compromise by hiring Silas. That plan has obviously backfired.
In a league driven by stars, the Rockets’ decision to pass over Lue in favor of Silas is a massive mistake. Because as we’ve seen with Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis, true superstars control their own fate. And by ignoring Harden and Westbrook’s wishes, the Rockets look like a franchise with a murky future.
What does the future hold for Harden and Westbrook?
With two years and roughly $91 million remaining on his contract, James Harden certainly isn’t cheap. Neither is Russell Westbrook, who has three years and about $132 million remaining on his long-term deal.
For teams interested in acquiring either star, it will be interesting to see how they approach a potential deal.
In Harden’s case, he has made it known that he would like to team up again with Kevin Durant. But will the Brooklyn Nets have to move Kyrie Irving in order for that to happen? It seems unlikely that Harden and Irving would fit well together in the backcourt since they are both ball-dominant guards.
When it comes to Westbrook, his expensive contract could be a stumbling block for many NBA teams. Will a franchise be willing to take on $132 million for a 32-year-old point guard who never won a title being “the guy” in OKC? At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether he’s even worth building around anymore.
But will Houston give in and get rid of Harden and/or Westbrook?
The Rockets already made a foolish mistake by ignoring their two biggest stars when it came time to hire a new head coach. Let’s see if they ignore their trade requests, too.