According to a report that surfaced Monday on ESPN.com early Monday, “there is friction” between Houston’s franchise players James Harden and Chris Paul. One “high-ranking” Rockets source went even as far as to say about the team, “There’s too much damn turmoil. There’s some hard feelings right everywhere.”
Paul reportedly voiced his agitations with Harden for a good part of the season. The veteran guard allegedly complained to the reigning MVP about his “tendency to ignore unglamorous details that impact winning,” like Harden not moving off the ball to create space. Paul also “cherish(ed)” opportunities to play without Harden on the floor and would demand to keep Harden on the bench as he ran with the second unit.
All of Paul’s frustrations seems to stem from two things, according to this report: his decline this season and the Rockets’ front office issues.
The Rockets were the first team this summer to experience real drama, before the offseason even got a chance to start, with their inability to get an extension done with head coach Mike D’Antoni - a disagreement that led to very public hearsay. Then, there’s the trade deadline fiasco that appeared to be Tilman Fertitta and co. doing anything to stay under the luxury tax. Finally, there’s the whole thing about Chris Paul getting shopped on the trade market. That needs no explanation.
More importantly, and probably a lot more telling, is the fact that the report suggests Paul isn’t happy with his role and transparently having to take a even bigger backseat to Harden. Paul had a noticeable decline this season, leaving Harden to take more isolation plays than Paul, a play in which both players were successful in 2017-2018. There’s also the fact that when Paul, a storied leader and great floor general, tries to advise and coach Harden, Harden is reportedly unable to take him seriously.
“Chris wants to coach James,” a Rockets source told ESPN. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.’”
That’s a lot of editorializing to take from a look, but obviously it’s a look only those close to the situation can see.
A couple of hours after that story leaked on Monday, Rockets GM Daryl Morey took to ESPN Radio’s Golic and Wingo to address the report. Morey made it clear that Paul has not asked for a trade. “No. No, he has not,” the GM said.
Morey went further in depth to explain some of the reported “turmoil:”
“We have two high-level competitors, Chris and James, who their only goal in life at this point is to win the title. They’ve accomplished everything else, they are both going to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. Two competitive superstars at that level, there’s going to be times when they are extremely competitive, extremely focused on how do we get to that next level, and when we don’t there’s going to be frustration. I’m frustrated, our top players are frustrated, Mike D’Antoni is frustrated. We want to take the last step and be the champion, and I think it’s good that there is tension in the sense that we all want to win.”
Morey also told the show he is confident that they are confident MDA will be with the Rockets beyond next year, and that Fertitta’s wallet isn’t as tight as people think it is.
“Tilman wants to win,” Morey said. “He’s spending whatever it takes. He’s authorized me to go into the tax for multiple years going forward. We’re going to spend whatever it takes to win.”
This assessment might be in the minority, but isn’t it a little too soon to say that things are bad for the Rockets right now? If management had never decided to hold a press conference about their first failed attempt to extend D’Antoni, would there have ever been a public war of words? Are Chris Paul’s frustrations with his role and apparent decline something that happens to all players and could have easily be mended in private - or, just a bit deeper, maybe his injuries late in the 2018 playoffs and all throughout the season kept him from playing at a higher level?
If Houston gets D’Antoni to extend, was it actually that bad to begin with? If they land a big-time free agent, aren’t they back to the top of the West? There are too many story lines here that should have stayed private, but they didn’t, and now everyone has to go through the motions. Let’s wait until we get concrete word of anything before judgments are made.