The date is May 10th, 2019 and the Houston Rockets lose to the Golden State Warriors 118-113 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. A defeated James Harden is asked about what the Rockets need to do next year to get over "this hurdle..."
"I know what we need to do...I know exactly what we need to do..."
Not often do you see NBA players admit so quickly after a devastating loss that they know what needs to happen in order to get over the hump for the upcoming season. These athletes are usually deflated and need time to get over the "shock" of a heartbreaking loss before thinking about next year. This was different though, as Harden seemed motivated to find a missing link to get Houston to the next level. Then the magical world of the NBA offseason came and we started to get plenty of "smoke" coming out of Houston.
It's that old cliche of "where there's smoke, there's fire." Numerous reports started to leak that the chemistry between Chris Paul and James Harden had gone sour. A report from Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill even suggested that both players had reached out to management about the issue and Chris Paul had demanded that the Rockets organization trade him while Harden gave the organization a "him or me" ultimatum. Since the report was released, both players denied it happened (of course).
But then we had liftoff.
After an eye-opening move by the Oklahoma City Thunder in which Paul George was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for a Fort Knox amount of draft picks and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the dots started to align and basketball fans around the world started to think the same thing..."the Thunder are going to trade Russell Westbrook aren't they?"
It wasn't a matter of "if" but more of a "when." We all knew that this was going to happen, as it seems that the Thunder were going into full rebuild just one year after signing Paul George to an extension. Everyone was trying to connect the dots on where Westbrook might be moved to, as no one could figure out an obvious team that would make sense for the talented and passionate floor general to suit up for next. The Knicks? Eh, didn't make too much sense with the youth movement. The Lakers? Well as is tradition, we always have to involve the Lakers in every rumor these days don't we? The Heat? I mean we guess so, but it doesn't make a ton of sense...
Then we got one of our biggest Woj Bombs of the entire NBA Offseason.
Yes, that's right basketball fans, we officially reached the stage of total anarchy for the NBA Offseason and it's been absolutely glorious hasn't it? In a surprising move, the Rockets decided to swing for the fences and move CP3 and picks for Russell Westbrook. While you can look at this trade and say it's a classic swap of bad contracts, it's important to remember that Westbrook is 4 years younger than Chris Paul. Some might question if this was a good move for the Houston Rockets so let us chime in...
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Yes, absolutely we are all-in on this move by the Rockets and allow me to tell you why. First of all, there's no denying that this Rockets team needed a "rejolt." What I mean by that, this locker room needed a boost after some of the drama that happened this offseason. What better boost than to get one of the most passionate on-court players in the NBA. The second part is the obvious reunion of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. This will work and be an underrated storyline for the season. The only wrinkle in this fit will be Westbrooks outside shooting in D'Antoni's system, but you could argue that Westbrook will thrive now being surrounded (FINALLY) by shooters and additional spacing. More driving lanes for Westbrook? Yes, we are in favor of Russell having more opportunities to destroy rims with his drives. There's going to be plenty doubters of the fit and I understand both sides of the table on this one. Yes, Westbrook and Harden have been stat fillers over the last several years for their respective teams. Yes, they are ball-dominant guards that are now being forced together.
It's important to remember that we had the exact same reaction when Chris Paul was acquired by the Rockets. Much of the basketball world, including us, hated the fit. CP3 was a ball-dominant guard for the Los Angeles Clippers at the time and no one thought he would succeed playing off of the ball in Houston. Paul ended up transitioning well with the Rockets and went on to average 18.6 PPG in his first year with the team. Now, Houston will look to see if they can make another ball-dominant guard transition smoothly to their system.
The Chris Paul experience had run its course in Houston and it seems like a smart move to get some fresh air in the locker room for the Rockets. Westbrook will be on a mission to prove his worth and D'Antoni has had success with getting career years out of players in his system. It will be interesting to see what he draws up to use Russell's talents this year. As for the Rockets fanbase, yes you have every reason to get excited about this upcoming year. The Rockets have found themselves in the backseat of "contender discussions" after the chaotic offseason that just took place. With Westbrook now on board, don't be surprised if this Houston team hits the ground running at a full sprint early in the season.