The Houston Rockets made a major trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook on Thursday, and it sounds like they did so because their star player wanted it.
Shortly after the trade was reported on Thursday, two reporters said that James Harden wanted to play with Westbrook.
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said Harden was a driving force in the deal.
James Harden was a driving force in this deal, I’m told. Russell Westbrook and Harden decides they wanted to reunite and Rockets made it happen despite some questions about fit now that Harden is so ball dominant. Houston believes ceiling is higher with Russ than CP3.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 12, 2019
Reporting on NBATV during a Summer League game, Allie LaForce reported that she spoke with someone in Houston’s organization who said Harden is “excited” to play with Russell Westbrook but sad to see Chris Paul go. LaForce says she was told Harden made it very clear that he wanted the trade so he could reunite with Westbrook.
Westbrook and Harden were drafted a year apart by the Thunder and played together for three seasons before Harden was dealt to Houston. Now seven years later they will have a chance to play together again.
There are several questions about how they will fit together considering they are both so ball-dominant and the Rockets’ offense is dependent on 3-point shooting around Harden, which is not Westbrook’s strength. Westbrook will have to fall into a role of not having the ball as much while playing alongside Harden, which should boost his efficiency.
There have been numerous reports since the Houston Rockets were eliminated from the postseason that their two biggest stars, James Harden and Chris Paul, are at odds and no longer want to play together. According to the team’s most respected veteran, that is a bunch of nonsense.
In an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic this week, Rockets forward PJ Tucker said talk of a rift between Harden and Paul is “fake news.” He admitted there was arguing after the Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, but he said that happens all the time and no more between Harden and CP3 than other teammates.
“No, but I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake,” Tucker said. “Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.
“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued? Hakeem (Olajuwon) and…”
Amick pointed out that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal got to the point where they could no longer co-exist, which is why Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat. Tucker would be fine with that as long as a championship comes first.
“If we win a championship together and we f—ing hate each other, then guess what? Who cares? (Laughs) Nobody. Right, so that’s all that matters. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Winning a championship. Everything else is failure.”
It’s hard to read anything into an argument after a playoff elimination loss, so those reports may have been overblown. The Western Conference is now wide open with the injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and Harden and Paul are both searching for their first championship ring. If you believe what CP3 said recently, the issues do not seem nearly as bad as some people think.
James Harden had a disappointing night at the NBA Awards show when he did not take home MVP honors, and that was hardly the biggest insult he faced throughout the evening.
Harden made it obvious he was not going to win his second straight MVP Award when he did not show up for the event. In making that choice, he also gave the presenter of the award, comedian Hasan Minhaj, some easy material to roast the Houston Rockets star. Minhaj listed off several great players who were in attendance before noting that Harden did not show up “in classic playoff fashion.”
Hasan Minhaj ethers James Harden pic.twitter.com/MKtsHTH0Na
— Paid man gets bored (@cjzero) June 25, 2019
For what it’s worth, MVP Award winner Giannis Antetokounmpo also struggled in the playoffs, and that’s one of the main reasons his Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Still, Harden kind of set himself up for that one by no-showing.
The Rockets made it clear that they totally disagree with Giannis winning MVP, but finishing in second may have been the least hurtful thing that happened to Harden.
The Houston Rockets respectfully disagreed with Giannis Antetokounmpo winning the NBA’s MVP Award.
Antetokounmpo on Monday was named the league’s MVP for the first time in his career, an honor that was well deserved. He led the Milwaukee Bucks to 60 wins — the most in the NBA last season. Antetokounmpo also averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game to completely stuff the stat sheet.
James Harden also had an MVP-worthy campaign, and the Rockets stated his case on Twitter following the announcement of the award.
Congrats to the new MVP, but we respectfully disagree.
Finished Top 2 in MVP voting 4 out of the last 5 seasons
1st player in NBA history to avg at least 35.0ppg & 7.0apg in a single season
Scored 40+ pts 28 times this season, 50+ 9 times & 60+ twice pic.twitter.com/UMmHARlNxg
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) June 25, 2019
32 consecutive games scoring at least 30pts, 2nd-longest in league history.
Over a span of 40 games played Harden avg 40.1 ppg, 7.1 apg, 7.0 rpg and 2.2 spg. That was the 2nd-longest span of averaging 40+ pts in NBA history!
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) June 25, 2019
Surpassed his career high for 3-pointers made in his 53rd game of the season finishing with 378, 2nd-highest single season total in NBA history.
Dating back to 2014-15, Harden is avg 30.4 pts, 8.4 ast, 6.4 reb, and 1.8 steals.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) June 25, 2019
In many other years, Harden, who was looking to become a back-to-back MVP winner, would have likely walked away with the award. Unfortunately for him, he had an amazing season at the same time as Antetokounmpo.
While it may be a consolation, if there’s one thing Harden knows, it’s that the organization has his back.
Stories about the relationship between Chris Paul and James Harden souring have been percolating the last month or so, and now it seems to have hit its peak.
Yahoo’s Vincent Goodwill reported on Tuesday that Paul demanded a trade from the Houston Rockets over his issues with Harden, while Harden told Houston to pick between them following the team’s loss to the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. This report is not surprising given that the two players reportedly had a blowout in the locker room after the Game 6 loss to Golden State in May. On top of that, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported on Monday that Paul and Harden have clashed over their personalities and playing styles.
Goodwill’s reporting takes everything a step further. He says the two players went nearly two months without speaking during the season. He adds that Harden has not responded to Paul’s messages to reach out over the offseason.
Paul is said to be upset with Harden’s ball-dominant playing style, while Harden is annoyed with CP3’s injuries and personality.
The Rockets would seemingly be extraordinarily unlikely to consider trading Harden, the 2017-2018 NBA MVP. They would probably be motivated to move Paul, but his contract would be a major hurdle in trading him. He is 34 years old, has a history of chronic hamstring injuries, and is owed $124 million over the next three years. The Rockets reportedly have had some preliminary talks about trading Paul.
Contrary to the news report, Paul posted on Instagram to deny making the demand.
The Houston Rockets have some interesting decisions to make this offseason with their two biggest stars reportedly butting heads. While the tension between James Harden and Chris Paul may not impact the team’s championships aspirations, it is apparently very real.
After the Rockets were eliminated by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, Harden and Paul had a tense exchange in the locker room that centered on ball distribution — or lack thereof — during Game 6. Sources told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that Paul felt Harden had dominated the ball too much and believed running more set plays would have been effective as the Warriors were mounting a fourth-quarter comeback.
MacMahon notes that the “prevailing belief” is the tension between Harden and Paul is typical for NBA superstars who are teammates and that it can be managed. However, Harden and Paul have been clashing both because of playing style and personality.
“Chris wants to coach James,” a source told MacMahon. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”
Paul is also said to be frustrated with Harden’s lack of commitment to spacing and moving when he does not have the ball. The report went on to state that CP3 “cherishes” the opportunity to be on the floor without Harden. Here’s more:
It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.
Again, a lot of this is normal — especially after a tough postseason exit. The Rockets aren’t going to trade Harden, and Paul is a 34-year-old player on the downside of his career who is owed $124 million over the next three years. Houston is probably better off just keeping him if they want to contend again next season.
If you believe what Mike D’Antoni said about the supposed issues between Harden and Paul, there is nothing to worry about. Winning cures all, and the Western Conference suddenly looks more open than it has in years with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson potentially missing the entire 2019-20 season. This could be Houston’s best chance to make an NBA Finals run, and Paul and Harden likely realize that.
Amid rumors of discord between his two star players, Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said that tension between guards Chris Paul and James Harden is nothing to worry about.
D’Antoni said that it’s “normal” for the teammates to go back-and-forth about the correct style, and added that the whole thing isn’t much of a story.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni also addressed the @TheAthletic report about tense talks between himself, Chris Paul and James Harden regarding style of play. https://t.co/T6IHQneHbZ pic.twitter.com/kPJF0H66ND
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 25, 2019
This comes on the heels of a report that Harden and Paul had a tense disagreement after being eliminated from the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors.
D’Antoni is doing what he should be doing here, which is trying to turn a negative report into nothing. All is not perfect in Houston, but it was not as if the Rockets performed badly this season, so it seems manageable for now.