Within their full report on Russell Westbrook‘s desire to leave Houston, Kelly Iko, Sam Amick, and Shams Charania of The Athletic write that the former MVP had made it known “for quite some time” that he wanted to see major changes to the Rockets‘ culture. Specifically, Westbrook was seeking more “team-wide accountability, discipline and structure,” and hoped to establish a culture similar to the one he’d helped create in Oklahoma City.
Westbrook wasn’t the only Rockets player who experienced some frustrations during the 2019/20 season. According to The Athletic’s report, Eric Gordon hasn’t been pleased with how his responsibilities and importance have diminished in recent years and has wanted a more consistent role. The Rockets reportedly discussed playing Gordon less often with Westbrook and James Harden to optimize his skill set, but Mike D’Antoni resisted changes to his staggering strategy.
Danuel House also wasn’t thrilled with his role in Houston’s offense and how he was used, according to Iko, Amick, and Charania, who say that the young forward “verbally challenged” Westbrook, Harden, and D’Antoni. Additionally, Austin Rivers were unhappy with inconsistent playing time and his usage, per The Athletic. Following one game when D’Antoni was about to sub in Rivers before changing his mind and inserting DeMarre Carroll instead, Rivers went on an “expletive-laden tirade.”
Many of those frustrations can be traced back to a lack of accountability, sources tell The Athletic. According to Iko, Amick, and Charania, during one team meeting following a January loss, Westbrook went around the room and gave suggestions about what each player could do to help reverse the team’s slide — Harden wasn’t as receptive to to criticism as other Rockets players, per The Athletic’s sources.
Concerns about the Rockets’ culture date back past the 2019/20 season, as there’s a belief the team has catered too much to its stars. When Trevor Ariza left the club in 2018, he wanted to join an organization that would give him more respect, according to The Athletic. When Houston later expressed interest in bringing back Ariza, he sought an apology that he never received, sources tell Iko, Amick, and Charania. There have also been some complaints over the years from Rockets players about the team’s style of play and its unwillingness to make adjustments.
Here’s more on the Rockets:
- P.J. Tucker has been “irate” all season long about his contract situation, believing he’s extremely underpaid relative to his role and production, according to Iko, Amick, and Charania. Tucker feels as though he deserves a raise and has been upset by the Rockets’ unwillingness to sign him to an extension, per The Athletic.
- D’Antoni’s and Daryl Morey‘s departures after the 2019/20 season have played a large part in creating doubt in Harden’s and Westbrook’s minds about the Rockets’ ability to sustain long-term success, according to Iko, Amick, and Charania. While both stars have had input on decisions and support the hiring of new head coach Stephen Silas, they’re concerned about the possibility of an eventual rebuild, which they’d have no interest in.
- Retaining veteran assistant John Lucas in a key role on Silas’ staff was meant to send a “clear message” to Westbrook and Harden that Houston remains committed to contending, according to The Athletic’s report.
- Appearing on The Ringer’s Real Ones podcast earlier this week, Austin Rivers strongly suggested that he intends to turn down his 2020/21 player option, which is worth the veteran’s minimum. “That’s something I’m going through right now with my agent,” Rivers said. “I definitely want to probably be out there on the market and just see what else is out there. But I love Houston; Houston’s still one of my main options. That’s a team I loved playing for. But there’s other teams out there that you want to look at. You owe it to yourself to at least see the best situation for yourself.”
- In Thursday’s episode of Brian Windhorst’s Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said Serge Ibaka will be high on the Rockets’ list of free agent targets this offseason, though he may be out of the club’s price range.