With Wednesday’s report from reliable sources at ESPN (Woj and Tim MacMahon) that James Harden and Russell Westbrook were dissatisfied with the direction the entire Houston Rockets franchise was headed, it’s now a fair question to ask if it’s officially time for the team to blow it up and start over.
Why the Rockets should blow it up
With the hiring of new General Manager Rafael Stone and brand new head coach Steven Silas, what better time to start a rebuilding process? The Rockets are short on upcoming draft picks for their new coach and GM, and the team is also pretty light on any legitimate young talent. This is a veteran squad built to win now, and with James Harden and Russell Westbrook now at the tail end of their primes, the window on that win-now mentality is quickly closing like an Indiana Jones film.
If you truly believe Silas has what it takes to be a long-term successful coach in this league (and there are many who believe he just might), the prudent move could be to play the long game rather than continue to sell out the future for a fast-dwindling title opportunity.
And if you’re taking an all-encompassing vision of the future, it’s not a hard leap to take that the best move to make would be to trade Harden. Especially since he’s just put the organization on notice. He’s not requesting a trade yet, but it’s not being ruled out.
Harden’s value will never again be as high as it is right now. That’s something to think about it. If there’s a certain inevitability to all this, you’re going to want to maximize value, right? If you honestly believe that the Rockets don’t win a title next year, shouldn’t you get what you can for one of the most valuable players in the game?
People can talk all the trash they want on Harden, but just about every team out there would be tripping over themselves to examine if there was any chance of acquiring him. Opposing fanbases would be gushing and fast deleting eight year’s worth of receipts on Twitter.
The best part about the thought of James Harden being in any way available would watching people who've spent 8 years shitting on him ready to sign away their first born child to bring him to their team.— Darren Yuvan (@DarrenYuvan) November 3, 2020
The Rockets likely command a huge package of players and picks, and though you never quite get “fair” value in return for a player of Harden’s caliber, if you’re intent on getting as close to fair value as possible, now is the time.
Westbrook’s contract is a little more tricky to move, but the guy’s coming off a 27-8-7 season in which he shot 47 percent from the field. It’s not an impossible ask. In fact, the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers have been rumored to be hot on Westbrook’s trail, so there are options available if the team decides to move Russ. His value is also not gong to be any higher than it is right now.
New coaching staff, new front office, much-needed future draft picks potentially up for grabs, and two possibly unhappy superstars who will never have higher trade value than right now — all good reasons for Houston to blow it up.
The case for keeping it together
There are legit reasons for keeping this group together too, which is what makes this such a difficult decision. How do you trade James Harden if he’s not requesting it?
The Beard and his famous visage is as synonymous with one organization over the past decade as just about any other player in the NBA. LeBron, KD, Kawhi... they’ve all jumped around in their prime. Harden didn’t get to his prime until after his H-town arrival, and there he’s stayed for the last eight seasons, endearing himself to the fan base with winning (but ultimately title-less so far) basketball and giving himself to the city of Houston through numerous philanthropic deeds. Harden IS Rockets basketball, at least since 2012.
In addition, the man is a great player. Great enough that he wins games all by himself. Great enough that he improves himself every year, now making a substantial impact on offense and defense. He’s still just 31 years old. Dirk Nowitzki was older when he won his first (and only) title. Hakeem Olajuwon was also 31 when he won his first title. Both guys had the same rep as Harden up until that point: phenomenal players, couldn’t get it done in the postseason. Until they could.
And doesn’t Harden deserve a season with Silas? And likewise, Silas with Harden? Silas is an offensive guru who specializes in guard play. The last time Harden hooked up with someone like that, he went from All-Star to All-World under Mike D’Antoni. Can Silas take that to another level still? It took Hakeem hooking up with first-time head coach Rudy Tomjanovich to find his perfect match in a mentor.
And if you think Silas has a potential championship pedigree, don’t you want to see what he can do with this roster? There are current questions about depth, but two stars at guard — supposedly Silas’ specialty — give him the chance to show what he can do with this crew. If it looks bad or things aren’t going in the right direction, you can always pivot. Despite Harden’s value not going higher than it is right now, the market also isn’t going away any time soon.
It’s a little bit different with Russ. There’s no real loyalty there yet between player and fan base, so the feelings and the aesthetics would be different, but maybe you don’t trade Russ unless you get a piece in return that would help you compete now. And unless the Clips are offering Paul George in return (which the Rockets should jump on if so), if you’re keeping Harden, you keep Russ too. Harden and Russ are likely a package deal at this point for the Rockets in terms of the team likely either keeps them both or trades them both.
And though he has his shortcomings and the Russ-Harden duo failed in the playoffs, mainly due to Westbrook’s ineffectiveness, remind yourself that Russ was not only battling a nasty quad injury but also a COVID-19 infection. What happens with both fully healthy along with some roster tweaks? If you’re Houston’s front office, don’t you owe it to find out?
My vote is to run it back one more time, make some roster changes to the role players, and incorporate Silas’ new system, see how far you can go. If it fails, you blow it up next season.
But with things starting to sound more and more on edge in Houston, it may not even come down to the decision of the front office. Obviously, if Harden demands a trade, you get what you can now and fast track the rebuilding process.
Per @ZachLowe_NBA, "From what I've heard today, the Rockets are trying to remain calm. There's nothing imminent. They think they can repair whatever needs to be repaired and enter next season with both these guys." He adds the disclaimer that the ball is in James Harden's court.— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) November 11, 2020
With massive organizational changes and questions about Tilman Fertitta’s willingness to open up the pocket book as the owner, you couldn’t necessarily blame Harden if he forced his way out to maximize his prime. But if the situation is in any way workable, all sides deserve to give it one, final go. With the regular season just a month away, we’ll get our answers soon.
What should the Rockets do?
This poll is closed
Blow it up
Run it back