After completely overhauling their front office over the past few weeks, the Houston Rockets now have to contend with the discontent of their two best players, as James Harden and Russell Westbrook have been voicing their uncertainty with the future of the franchise, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.
According to those sources, the superstars have expressed their concern in direct discussions with both their own representatives as well as the Rockets’ front office, though there has been no trade demand made by either player as of yet.
The worries of Harden and Westbrook would seem to be valid, as they go from a veteran front office that included a modern basketball pioneer in Daryl Morey and possibly the greatest offensive mind in basketball in Mike D’Antoni, to one populated with unproven entities in rookie head coach Stephen Silas and rookie general manager Rafael Stone, who’s two years removed from a position as the team’s legal counsel.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertita, Stone, and Silas have been steadfast in communicating that they intend to put a serious contender on the floor next season. Despite that, and the fact that ESPN’s sources also said that both Harden and Westbrook were consulted during the team’s search for a new head coach and were on board with the Silas’ hire, the stars remain seemingly unsatisfied.
Houston has been desperately chasing a championship since acquiring Harden back in 2012, reaching the Western Conference Finals with the help of Dwight Howard in 2015 and Chris Paul in 2018, but never getting over the hump and into the NBA Finals.
The reigning scoring champ has said several times during his tenure that he’d like to finish out his playing days in Houston. He has not been shy about expressing this type of urgency in terms of acquiring the right talent to get the monkey off of their back, and he has been in discussions with the front office about possible personnel moves during this offseason, sources said.
The only problem is that the Rockets—who are currently sitting as big +3000 odds longshots to win next year’s NBA championship on 888sport—don’t have much to barter with in terms of draft choices after having given up their top picks in 2020, 2024, and 2026 via trades last season.
Since arriving in Houston in 2012, Harden has made eight straight All-Star teams and received six First-Team All-NBA nods. He also led the NBA in assists in 2017 before taking home MVP honors in 2018. The 31-year-old Los Angeles native, who has led the league in scoring in each of the past three seasons, is owed $131.5 million on his max deal over the next three years.
Westbrook, for his part, is entering just his second year in Houston after arriving from Oklahoma City via a trade that sent Chris Paul and a handful of draft picks to the Thunder. The 2016-2017 MVP, now 32, had a decent season with the Rockets, though he labored in the playoffs as he battled rust and injury. Westbrook is owed the same amount of money as Harden over the next three years.
That’s a lot of money already attached to two players, but Stone insists this team is in win-now mode.
“For the last eight years or so, our goal has been to win a championship because we had James Harden,” Stone said. “We’ve still got James Harden. Our goal is still to win a championship, and if you’ve got him, you’re halfway there. It’s incumbent on me and Stephen and the whole team to figure out the rest of the whole, but the key piece is there.”