Two days before the agreement that brought Russell Westbrook to Houston was completed, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was pessimistic that it would get done, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes in a retrospective of the deal. Feigen traces the steps that led to the Rockets’ latest high-stakes gamble and the Thunder’s decision to part with their franchise player.
Everything began late on July 5 when Kawhi Leonard announced he was joining the Clippers, followed by the news that Oklahoma City was trading Paul George there as well. Morey sent text messages to owner Tilman Fertitta and his son Patrick suggesting that a huge shakeup could be in the works in OKC. Other team officials were included in the discussion the next morning, then Morey talked to James Harden, who had already spoken to Westbrook.
“The discussion at that point among the basketball staff was, ‘Hey, we need to check in and see if this changes the direction.’ I guess there was a thought they might trade other guys like Russell,” Morey said. “You never know. At this point, it was pretty unknown.”
Morey placed a call to Thunder GM Sam Presti, but their early discussions remained general. They spoke frequently over the next few days as international prospects and other players were considered in a deal that eventually became Westbrook for Chris Paul and draft picks. Morey alerted Paul and his representatives that a potential trade was brewing. He also tried unsuccessfully to get a third team involved, although he wouldn’t reveal who he talked to.
“It didn’t seem that there would be a fit for both parties,” Morey said. “I told them (Tilman and Patrick Fertitta) quite a bit that it wasn’t going to happen because that’s what I believed. I didn’t think the pieces lined up. That’s why a three-team deal made sense. And I thought other teams would be more involved than we were; teams that had more fits.”
A day before the deal was completed, Presti expressed a preference for a two-team trade that was heavy on draft picks. The Thunder wound up with Houston’s top-four-protected selections in 2024 and 2026, along with two pick swaps that include top-four protection in 2021 and and top-10 protection in 2025. Once an agreement was reached, Morey tried to expand the deal by involving other teams, but he found interest was low. He said the hardest part was having to tell Paul that their partnership was over after two seasons.
“I hated that call,” Morey said. “I’m sure he hated it more. He’s been such a great player for us. We were moments away from winning a title with him.”