8:42 AM ET
- Adrian Voynarovskiy
Senior Insider of the NBA
- Master Voi Pod
- Member of ESPN since 2017.
- Tim McMahon
ESPN Staff Writer
- Member of ESPNDallas.com since September 2009.
- Cover the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Mavericks.
- Appears regularly on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM
With the Houston Rockets undergo a major change between seasons, a new challenge for the franchise is the uncertainty of the former MVP Guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook about their future in the team, sources told ESPN.
Following the departure of head coach Mike D’Anthony and general manager Daryl Morey Harden, Westbrook and Westbrook have expressed concerns about steering the franchise in direct talks or conversations with their representatives and the Rockets front office, according to some sources.
Missile owner Tilman Fertitta, recently expanded general manager Rafael Stone and recently hired head coach Stephen Silas commented that the franchise is always eager to expose its opponent while the two eternal stars are in the prime of life. However, concerns expressed by Harden and Westbrook about the possibility that the Houston window would be closed to candidates led the organisation to fear that the superstar’s commitment to stay with the rockets would be delayed.
Although none of the actors requested an exchange at this stage, this scenario has become a likely possibility.
At 31, Harden has been the star of eight seasons since arriving in Houston, winning the MVP title in 2017-18, and is in the top three with four more votes in the past six years, as well as the last three NBA titles. He owes $131.5 million for the remaining three seasons of his maximum contract, including a $46.9 million option on a player in 2022-23.
Westbrook, who turns 32 on Thursday, also owes $131.5 million for the next three seasons and has a player option of $46.7 million in 2022-23. He won the MVP title in 2016-17 and finished ninth in the All-Star team last season. Westbrook ended up in the first round of the playoffs with rust and injuries after the return of a tense right quadriceps.
According to sources, the two stars were consulted during missile training research and were on board when Silas was hired.
Harden, who has publicly stated on several occasions that he hopes to play in Houston for the rest of his career, has expressed similar concerns in recent years about increasing his chances of winning the championship through Rocket. According to some sources, he continues to negotiate with Houston management to transfer potential employees out of season.
During Harden’s tenure, the Rockets aggressively chased the titles and combined him three times with another long-time star – first by signing Dwight Howard as a free agent in 2013, then swapping him for Chris Paul in the 2017 off-season, and finally by moving Paul and his first bunch of laps in Westbrook last summer.
The rockets reached the finals of the Western Conference in 2015 with Howard and in 2018 with Paul, but the partnership with Harden ended shortly after, partly due to tensions about basketball personalities and philosophy, especially because Harden preferred isolation to the offensive.
Harden was pressured to make a deal with Westbrook, his childhood friend in Los Angeles and former teammate of Oklahoma City Thunder – a deal that exhausted the assets of the Houston project. Rockets owe Thunder the first elections in 2024 and 2026 (the first four are protected), and Oklahoma City has the 10 best protected trading rights with Houston in 2021 and 2025.
Rocketts also has no first-round berth in the NBA design this year and lost it to the Clint Kapela Center in a four-team deal that Robert Covington took to Houston last season. Houston has only limited room to improve its list, as Rocketts are pushed to pay the luxury tax. Fertitta has repeatedly stated that he is willing to pay the tax, but the franchise has been avoiding him for three seasons since Fertitta bought the team.
We will remain extremely aggressive, Stone said Thursday at a virtual press conference on the launch of Silas. We’re gonna try. Whether we get there or not, I don’t know, but I can guarantee we’ll work on it, and I’m very, very anxious to get there.
D’Anthony, who set a four-season franchise record of .682 for the Rockets, has decided not to try to return to Houston when his contract expires after the second round of the team’s playoffs. Houston hired Silas, the first head coach with 20 years of experience as an NBA assistant, after interviewing several candidates during the search process.
Maury, whose agreement with Harden in October 2012 opened a window for candidates for the position of rocket general manager, resigned from his position as Houston general manager in October, citing the desire to spend more time with his family as a reason for the end of his 13-year term as rocket general manager. Less than two weeks later, Maury agreed to become president of operations for Philadelphia 76 basketball.
Stone, who had worked in the Rockets front office for a long time, was promoted to general manager to replace Maury. In his first public remarks after his promotion, Stone stated emphatically that the Rockets intend to continue organising the championship with Harden as franchise centre.
About eight years our goal has been to win the championship because we had James Harden,” Stone said on Thursday. We still have James Harden. Our goal is to win the championship, and if you have it, you’re halfway there. It’s up to me, Stephen, and the whole team to figure out what the next step is, but this is the most important thing.