Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Harden, Paul, More

In the wake of the blockbuster trade agreement that will send Russell Westbrook to Houston and Chris Paul to Oklahoma City, a Rockets source tells Jordan Schultz of ESPN (Twitter link) that the pre-existing friendship between Westbrook and James Harden gave the team the confidence to pull the trigger on the deal and pair them again. Sources tell Sam Amick of The Athletic that the former Thunder teammates began discussing the idea of playing together shortly after Paul George asked to be traded.

“They are motivated to play together,” said Schultz’s source.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe conveys a similar sentiment, relaying an anecdote about Harden offering a reminder to Rockets GM Daryl Morey during a conversation about Westbrook: “I know how to play with Russ and he knows how to play with me.” Westbrook is also enthusiastic about playing with Harden again, sources tell Lowe.

Of course, it was just two years ago that we heard similar things about Harden and Paul after CP3 chose to join the Rockets. While skeptics at that time questioned whether two ball-dominant guards like Harden and Paul could co-exist, the common refrain was that the two players pushed for the union and were confident they could make it work.

It mostly did, as the Rockets won a league-high 65 games in 2017/18 and were the Western Conference’s biggest threat to the Warriors over the last two seasons. However, the Paul-in-Houston era ultimately ended with rumors of discord between the two stars, and a trade that will send CP3 to Oklahoma City in exchange for a new star point guard.

As we wait to see whether this new pairing can help lead the Rockets to that elusive title, let’s round up a few more notes on Houston’s side of the trade:

  • Within his ESPN.com article cited above, Zach Lowe notes that Mike D’Antoni‘s experience coaching Westbrook on Team USA increased Houston’s comfort level in making the trade. Lowe also hears that the Rockets tried to push for the Thunder to take their 2020 first-round pick, but OKC insisted on picks further out — those 2024 and 2026 first-rounders aren’t as likely to fall in the late-20s, since Harden and Westbrook will be in their mid-30s by then.
  • According to Sam Amick, the contract extension D’Antoni had been seeking is no longer a priority for the Rockets’ head coach, who is now more focused on making his new-look backcourt work. Sources also tell Amick that the Rockets explored various iterations of a Westbrook deal – including ones that wouldn’t have involved Paul – before eventually settling on the reported terms.
  • The reported tension between Harden and Paul didn’t factor into the decision to make the Westbrook trade, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN, who tweets that the Rockets considered it “manageable” and not out of the ordinary for two alpha dogs. “That would not have driven us to do something we otherwise wouldn’t have done,” one team source said to MacMahon. While that tension may not have been the driving force behind the deal, I’m skeptical that it wasn’t a factor at all.
  • A league source who spoke to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports sounds even more skeptical. “James made this [expletive] happen,” that source told Goodwill. “He wanted Chris up out of there.” Still, Goodwill questions whether adding Westbrook to the mix makes basketball sense for the Rockets, referring to it as a “marriage of desperation.”
  • By acquiring Westbrook, the Rockets will become the first NBA team with two players on Designated Veteran Extensions (super-maxes), tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Although Paul’s deal looks nearly identical to Westbrook, it wasn’t technically a Designated Veteran contract, since CP3 signed it after he already had 10 years of NBA experience. Houston will now be prohibited from adding a third player on a Designated Veteran deal, though as Marks notes, that doesn’t seem likely to become an issue (the only other players on those contracts are Stephen Curry, John Wall, and Damian Lillard).
  • An ESPN.com panel – featuring Marks, Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, and others – breaks down the Rockets/Thunder blockbuster, exploring how each team made out in the trade and their initial reactions to the deal.
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24 thoughts on “Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Harden, Paul, More

  1. twinsfan368

    I feel like this is gonna go wrong for the rockets it seems like whenever two stars play with each other the other one gets mad cuz they have to constantly share the ball when they’re on the floor together

    • dtrainriotmaker

      It very well could , but let’s be honest , Paul gets hurt a lot especially around play off time , and they have to try something while they still have a chance in the loaded west .

    • madmanTX

      By that logic, no pairings of superstars should ever work. It’s an old weak refrain of haters who want the pairing to fail.

      • victorg

        I agree they will take some time to get the hang but I more expect it to go really well by the end of the year.

        • specialfriedrice

          If Harden couldnt handle CP3 usage…how will he handle westbrook…? it wont work…Morey is a terrible GM that literally thinks just stacking players with and on big contracts will make his team successful.

  2. victorg

    as a rox fan I am now very excited for the season to start … they still need a legit 6-7 to 6-9 wing … in place of Gordon … I would like them to trade Gordon for Covington and then sign Livingston for backcourt depth behind Westbrook, Harden and Rivers.

      • victorg

        @ CLOUT
        I would think for sure that Adams gets delt to a contender … a team like Cha could use the upgrade over Biyombo if they hope to contend in the east … Dal could also use a legit center with KP.

  3. mcmillankmm

    Where does CP3 go now? Minnesota and Orlando would be intriguing fits…probably need a 3rd team in a trade with Minnesota

      • oriolesravenstimberwolves04

        So a hall of fame player still seeking a championship ring is best fitted to serve on potentially the two worst teams in the entire league? Charlotte won’t be giving up assets to upgrade a god awful roster. They are tanking with Kemba. It makes zero sense for both parties. Just like CP running point in OKC.

  4. hoosierhysteria

    Rockets will lead league in scoring. If they don’t win it all….not likely they do…..coach Dan is gone. The next coach: Rick Pitino. Write it down. New owner didn’t renew/extend him and negotiate didn’t go well. Pitino will get these guys to play defense. They have a good roster….gonna be hard out. West is brutal!

    • Jason Lancaster

      Pitino wasn’t a good NBA coach before, what makes you think he’ll be good now?

      The only place he’s ever done well is the NCAA. Completely different type of coaching (much easier). You can be successful if you’re good at recruiting… Don’t even have to know “X’s and I’d.”

      It’s baffling to me how people think college coaches will succeed in the NBA. Most of them crash and burn.

  5. acarneglia

    I disagree with most people. I think this marriage can and will work. Harden and Westbrook wanted to be teammates again and they already know how to play together. They’ll make it work

    • I agree with you, I think the mob mentality (especially on twitter) has led a lot of people to believe its impossible to play/win with Westbrook. There will probably be some growing pains figuring everything out at the beginning of the season, but come playoff time they’ll be a contender.

  6. CP3’s problems in Houston are not just about Harden. The system (which abhors the mid-range shot) was also restrictive for him. He’s a good 3 pt shooter, but not in volume.

    Maybe RW’s addition will necessitate adjustments in their system, because he obviously can’t be limited to 3’s and layups. When they played together in OKC, Harden usually had the ball, and RW played off of it as a 2nd option to Durant. R.Jackson and Schoeder usually handled when in the game, as well. RW can play off the ball. Just not as a 3 pt shooter.

    • FromTheCheapSeats

      You’re right. The folks talking about Westbrook’s inability or unwillingness to play off the ball simply haven’t watched him play enough. He has, and he will.

      The issue comes at the end of games. Too often – and other NBA stars are guilty of the same thing – Westbrook seems to panic and simply tries to do too much. The crazy thing is, Harden’s issue has been that, in crunch time, he doesn’t do enough.

      The Rockets are a lock to win 60 games.l next year. If Westbrook can refrain from playing “hero ball”, and Harden doesn’t disappear, the Rockets are a legitimate contender. One way or the other, it’ll be fun to watch.

  7. clubberlang

    Russ is going to be the full time PG and Harden will go back to playing off the ball more. 2 years ago when the Rockets won 65 games, Harden was not nearly as ISO heavy and they where significantly better. Harden took on more of the ISO roll last season when CP3 and Capella where Injured and kinda never looked back.

    • Not in this system (tweaked or not). Harden has to ISO less, but the system is inherently designed for a guy like him with the ball crossing 3/4 court as 3 pt shooter and facilitator.

  8. Richard Hangslow

    This will become a dumpster fire before Christmas. No way you can put 2 ball dominate iso players on the court at the same time and it not end badly. I.E. KD & Russ

    • victorg

      @ Richard
      MJ and Pippen were pretty ball dominate … same with LBJ and Kyrie …. LBJ and Wade … KD and Westbrook … PG and Khawi … AD and Cousins … Butler and Simmons … they will figure it out and don’t be shocked to see them in the finals.

  9. specialfriedrice

    @victorg
    MJ & Pippen = Batman and Robin
    LBJ & Kyrie = another Batman and Robin…
    LBJ & Wade = yet another Batman and Robin…
    KD & Westbrook = Batman and Robin
    PG & Khawi = we will see…
    AD & Cousins = they played better when is was just AD & Drew after Cousins went down…that’s a terrible example
    Bulter & Simmons = both players dipped the Sixers didnt dominate either…this is also a terrible example.

    I will give you my house if that duo makes it to the NBA finals

  10. x%sure

    Anything in basketball Batman and Robin is a terrible example. Now add Alfred and comissioner Gordon, you have… something.

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