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Opinion

Houston we have a problem: What is next for the Rockets?

James Harden is a Rocket no more. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Roar Rookie
12th November, 2020
3

What happened to the Hakeem Olajuwon days?

The Houston Rockets have become a poorly run, dying franchise. The Tilman Fertitta era of Houston basketball has seen multiple failed attempts to reach the NBA finals, the loss of executive of the year Darryl Morey, hall of fame coach Mike D’Antoni, and now their stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden could be on the out too.

All-star point guard Russell Westbrook just recently requested a trade from Houston just after one year of playing for the Rockets, and reports are saying James Harden may be in a similar situation as tensions are rising in Texas.

The Rockets lost a number of their future assets when trading for Westbrook: giving up first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.

They are obliged to pay a number of heavy hitting contracts, some of which include James Harden’s $228 million dollar contract he signed in July 2017, and Eric Gordon’s $75-million contract he signed in 2019. So, for the first time in many years, it might be appropriate for the Rockets to consider flipping their big-time players, such as Westbrook and Harden, to re-establish a culture of success and open some salary space they have lost over the years.

James Harden holds the ball

James Harden (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

So, what’s the move? The Rockets have failed to pair Harden with the right stars throughout the duration of his career in Houston. First it was Lou Williams, then Clint Capela, Chris Paul, now Westbrook, and the list could go on.

Hence, the first potential move in play could be to bring in Australia’s own Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and the 21st pick in the 2020 NBA draft in return for James Harden.

Although it may seem crazy for the 76ers to make such a trade, with some more detail it makes complete sense for both sides. Darryl Morey stepped down in October as executive of basketball operations for Houston, and quickly joined the 76ers in counter, all whilst maintaining a quality relationship with Harden, continuing to recognise the ability he has as a player.

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Through this trade, Houston is extending their timeline as a contender, whilst adding a star in Ben Simmons who is seven years younger, whilst Philly can break up the troublesome system surrounding Joel Embiid and Simmons, which has proven to only create issues for the team.

Although he is not quite on Harden’s level, or at least yet, Simmons averaged 16 points per game on 58 per cent shooting, eight assists, eight rebounds, two steals and made the All- NBA defensive first team.

Although his three point shot is yet to be proven, the Rockets fit is perfect for Simmons as he is surrounded by shooters such as: Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Danuel House, Ben McLemore, Jeff Green, and Robert Covington. Plus, Matisse Thybulle brings the best young defence in the league, and a late first round pick produces some much needed youth on this ageing Rockets squad.

Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

But what about Westbrook, the one who actually requested a trade? A suitable destination for the 32 year-old point guard is the LA Clippers, in exchange for Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, and cap filler.

Although it may seem unrealistic for Westbrook, who was an MVP just three years ago, he is making an immense amount of money, and coming off yet another playoff run where he failed to efficiently contribute to a team win, hence his trade value is low, despite what people may think.

Plus, the Clippers front office has expressed the need for a starting calibre point guard, which Westbrook still is, and it is rumoured Clippers star player Kawhi Leonard may be recruiting him.

In return, the Rockets add another scorer to tag with Simmons in Lou Williams, who still has a lot to offer a team despite his growing age, and Landry Shamet, one of the best young three point shooters in the league.

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Fans can’t blame Harden or Westbrook for their changing views surrounding their future in Houston. Both stars are in their late-primes, and neither have championships, the ideal goal for an NBA player.

They’re entering a phase of Houston basketball with a first time GM, first time head coach, and are caught up in the mess that is the Rockets franchise. Although management could salvage this mess by coming to terms with their star players, it is more likely big trades will go down.

Whatever happens, it is essential the Rockets navigate this crisis, if not, their new owner Tilman Fertitta could be considered one of the worst in the NBA.

They’ve lost their highly regarded GM in Darryl Morey, and hall of fame coach Mike D’Antoni, and soon we might be hearing similar statements about James Harden and Russell Westbrook.