Well, the offseason for the Houston Rockets just got real interesting.
Yesterday’s report from Yahoo Sports that James Harden and Chris Paul’s relationship was “unsalvageable” and that Paul demanded a trade after Houston’s second-round playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors set off a firestorm. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire in these types of issues, right?
And with Paul’s generally abrasive on-court demeanor and Harden’s occasional appearance of aloofness, it’s not that big of a leap to see how these two might clash in personality. In fact, the Yahoo report went so far as to include this quote:
“There’s no respect at all, on either side. They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point... it can’t be fixed. “
A puzzling to this point offseason just hit the red alert button, right? Well, not so fast.
The first item you have to look at in these types of reports is the source. The author of the Yahoo piece uses unnamed sources, which usually means there is some type of leak within the organization. The most likely culprit being one of the recently fired assistants with an ax to grind. How else would a reporter who hasn’t covered the Rockets all season suddenly have this insider information that not even the Houston beat writers are privy to?
And believe me, the reporters closest to the Rockets think this report is abjectly false.
I am on the team plane for every trip and I will confirm the seating and card playing relationship between James and Chris. https://t.co/d26zL4UB1P— Craig Ackerman (@ca_rockets) June 18, 2019
Enough is enough...This is a flat out lie...I was around that team the entire year...traveled with them as well..They did not go 2 months without talking..@YahooSportsNBA I am available to go on the record about this as well..we can start wherever you want too.. https://t.co/Sv3THsULQp— SPORTZ TALK WITH BIG SARGE (@BigSargeSportz) June 19, 2019
Secondly, Rockets GM Daryl Morey has been adamantly clear that Paul has not requested a trade, telling the Houston Chronicle:
“It’s definitely not true. It’s ridiculous.
“I’ve talked to Chris since (they were eliminated by the Warriors), for sure. Myself, Mike D’Antoni, James Harden are all super competitive, all frustrated we were eliminated from the playoffs, all want to get over the hump. That leads to a lot of competitive fire. All of it is normal. We’re all in the same boat, pursuing the championship. We’re all frustrated we’re not there. But there is nothing past that.
“I’m very frustrated right now. We’re literally trying to do real work on making the team better and every day I have to learn about a new media rock that has been turned over and they crawl out and tweet something and I’m supposed to react.”
Morey also made it a point to speak with Zach Lowe on the matter.
Just spoke to Daryl Morey. He reiterated there has been no trade demand from Chris Paul. "Tweet that I said that. Print it. Tweet it twice." https://t.co/oo6ge0Wkop— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) June 19, 2019
Don’t believe the Houston GM? Think he’s just saying what needs to be said publicly to keep the peace? Well, how about straight from the horse’s mouth?
Chris Paul's reply to the @VinceGoodwill report: "Damn! That's news to me..." pic.twitter.com/ndX7zxIDOe— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) June 18, 2019
So that’s a pretty strong and direct denial from inside the Rockets organization. So what is the truth here? Like in all situations, likely somewhere in the middle, but leaning much closer to “nothing to see here, move along now.”
Do I believe there’s been some tense moments among teammates? Absolutely. These guys are competitors of the highest order. And they’ve repeatedly faced the same failure (Golden State) over and over again. That’s got to be frustrating. I’m sure there’s been heated discussions (on all sides) about what needs to change and what needs to improve to get over the hump. Or at least, I sure as heck hope there were. If not, I’d be disappointed.
If you recall back in the title days, Hakeem Olajuwon once smacked Vernon Maxwell across the face for showing disrespect. That didn’t preclude those two from playing (and winning) together moving forward. These are grown men. You can have heated debates, or disagreements, and move on from them. I might even suggest that’s what should be happening when you face the same recurring failure repeatedly. Something needs to change, and most of these guys are alphas of the highest order.
But there’s a huge middle ground from disagreements up to asking to be traded and an “unsalvageable” relationship, and I believe that’s where this lies. Add in a possible disgruntled source and a publication eager to break a story, and that’s how you get a report from someone who doesn’t cover the Rockets that befuddles literally everyone that follows the team on a day-to-day basis.
With Golden State teetering on the brink with injuries, the Rockets know they have an open door out West this coming season. And though changes are likely to be made, I don’t believe that anyone — Morey, Paul, Harden — feels “totally blow it up” (which is what a Paul trade would amount to at this point) is the correct answer.