The Rockets‘ culture in recent years might be best described as “whatever James Harden wants,” Tim MacMahon writes at ESPN.com. As MacMahon explains, the Rockets have essentially let Harden dictate the team’s travel and practice schedules, staying overnight when the team plays in one of his favorite road cities such as Los Angeles or Phoenix, and not practicing on certain off days when Harden decides to charter a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city.
According to MacMahon, in addition to calling the shots on the team’s travel and practice plans, Harden has also wielded significant power over personnel moves, having pushed in past years for Kevin McHale‘s firing as well as the departure of star players like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.
Since Harden is a perennial MVP candidate, the Rockets have been fine in the past with allowing him to exercise that power. As one member of last season’s coaching staff told MacMahon: “If they have multiple days off, everybody knows: James is going to fly somewhere else and party. But he’s going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they’re OK with it.”
However, when Harden pushed to be traded this offseason, the team pushed back, refusing to move him immediately to one of his preferred destinations. As the standoff played out, the 31-year-old partied in Atlanta and Vegas while the Rockets began training camp, violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols and taking his time to report to camp.
“You can’t get mad at your kid if you let him eat candy every night and then suddenly one night you don’t and they throw a tantrum,” a former Rockets assistant said to ESPN. “You’re the one who let them eat candy every night. The Rockets turned the organization over to James and now they have to live with the fallout.”
Here’s more on Harden and the Rockets, including a few more noteworthy tidbits from MacMahon’s in-depth report:
- Harden has pushed the Rockets to upgrade their roster every offseason in recent years, indicating that he’d want to be traded if the team couldn’t contend for a title, sources tell MacMahon. The star guard told the club during the 2019 offseason that he’d demand a trade if Houston didn’t find a way to acquire Russell Westbrook.
- The “lack of discipline and attention to detail” within the Rockets’ organization bothered both Paul and Westbrook, reports MacMahon. Westbrook, in particular, was put off by the team’s casual culture, since he helped ensure the Thunder “operated with the discipline of a military unit” during the decade he spent in Oklahoma City.
- As MacMahon details, Westbrook was bothered by the fact that scheduled times for travel and film sessions were treated as “mere suggestions” by Harden and others. At one point during the restart at Walt Disney World, Harden waited until just before a Rockets film session began to undergo his daily COVID-19 test, leaving Westbrook angry and wanting to start the session without him, sources tell ESPN.
- John Wall has high hopes for what he and Harden can do together in the Rockets’ backcourt, but he said on Tuesday that he’s not going to try to convince the former MVP to drop his trade request, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. “At the end of the day, that’s a friend,” Wall said. “He’s going to do what’s best for him and the organization is going to do what’s best for them, also. The most important this is when we step on the floor, when we’re stepping into practice, we’re focusing ourselves on basketball. I don’t try to ask him about that because that’s his personal business.”