NBA Pros Weigh in on Possible Harden, Westbrook Trades for Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets' James Harden, left and Russell Westbrook walks together during the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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Following a failed extension negotiation sooner than the 2019-20 NBA season, Mike D’Antoni was repeatedly going to transfer on from the Houston Rockets—now not less than, that was the buzz from loads of executives all the diagram in which by the league. The legitimate resolution could possibly well possibly furthermore occupy attain after the 4-1 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, but it was inevitable.

What we furthermore know is the Rockets occupy a top-heavy roster with $119.6 million dedicated to their 5 starters subsequent season: Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker and James Harden. Will the next coach salvage now not less than a No. 4 seed and one other 2d-exit out of the same employees, or was that restricted success a manufactured from D’Antoni’s design?

It appears to be as if general supervisor Daryl Morey can occupy a gamble to reply to that expect.

“Daryl Morey’s job is gather, and I am race he’ll care for the valid head coach,” Rockets governor Tilman Fertitta acknowledged on CNBC on Tuesday (h/t Tim MacMahon of ESPN). Fertitta gave Morey a 5-twelve months extension in 2019, that could possibly well possibly furthermore be influencing the governor’s resolution to care for him.

“Fertitta is now not going to pay [both Morey for the next four years] and a replacement,” a former Western Conference executive acknowledged. “But this could possibly well possibly also be Morey’s final instructing hire [in Houston]. I promise you that.”

Marc Stein of the Fresh York Instances reported “there had been rumbles in instructing circles for weeks that the Rockets will strongly occupy in mind Jeff Van Gundy” to exchange D’Antoni.

“James [Harden] ain’t playing for [Van Gundy],” the former executive acknowledged. “It be a player’s league … [Van Gundy] is going to would favor to practice daily.”

Los Angeles Clippers assistant Sam Cassell light has successfully-organized goodwill in Houston from his title-winning playing days. Alvin Gentry, who took over as Phoenix’s head coach at this time after D’Antoni, could possibly well possibly be the closest standard.

“I salvage now not mediate Gentry is [as] coarse as [D’Antoni at coaching small ball],” an Eastern Conference executive acknowledged. 

NBA sources furthermore suggested assorted candidates alongside side Kenny Atkinson, Chris Finch, Ime Udoka and David Vanterpool. 

“I have in mind they talked about making an strive more of a defensive-form coach sooner than hiring Mike,” a 2d Eastern Conference executive acknowledged. 

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That’s most likely a step extra than the Rockets are though-provoking to jog. Harden retains the Rockets on nationwide television and within the playoffs. Several teams concentrate on Westbrook is readily available, but they’ve received no indication from Houston that Harden is the leisure but untouchable.

“All the issues ought to be on the desk, alongside side transferring Harden,” acknowledged the 2d Eastern Conference executive.

But keeping apart Harden and Westbrook is the leisure but easy.

The Golden Utter Warriors are making an strive to attain to competition subsequent season, but would they make stronger by buying Westbrook in a equipment starting with Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney? Originate air shedding the three years and $132.6 million remaining on Westbrook’s contract (the final season is a player option at $47.1 million), would that develop the leisure for Houston?

“I mediate all of us realize that Harden and Westbrook don’t seem to be the very finest fit for every other,” the first Eastern Conference executive acknowledged. “But I mediate they could well factual choose to transfer forward with these two and proceed to raise a search at to create the roster round them.”

“The [New York] Knicks will be one among the fully teams that generally is a fit for Westbrook,” the executive continued. “Unsure if there are any others.”

Fresh York has significant flexibility this offseason, be it with cap room or veterans to trade take care of Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Julius Randle, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock, alongside side younger prospects take care of Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox. The Knicks could possibly well possibly give Houston depth, whereas the Rockets could possibly well possibly give Fresh York a headliner in Westbrook.

Lots of teams could possibly presumably occupy in mind Westbrook too. In all likelihood the Indiana Pacers would occupy passion if they blow up their gigantic-man pairing of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Houston could possibly well possibly add size within the heart with Turner, who is now not timorous to shoot from deep (with Jeremy Lamb and Doug McDermott related for wage-matching purposes).

Indiana will must concentrate on on Victor Oladipo’s destiny at this time enough. Is Westbrook’s big wage by 2022-23 a greater quick funding for the Pacers than Oladipo on a four- or 5-twelve months max contract starting in 2021-22? Does Oladipo intend to care for in Indiana as an unrestricted free agent after subsequent season?

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All the issues is tied together within the NBA. Your complete league is ready on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s destiny with the Milwaukee Bucks. Few teams will likely occupy in mind Westbrook unless they know they don’t occupy any shot at Antetokounmpo. At that level, they could well furthermore search at Oladipo because the next-finest target.

Even then, Oklahoma Metropolis Declare guard Chris Paul is likely a more tremendous trade target than Westbrook. Paul, who is owed two years and $85.5 million (alongside side a $44.2 million player option in 2021-22), “has performed himself support into being a commodity,” one Western Conference executive acknowledged.

The Rockets occupy loads of selections to salvage. Morey has both a lengthy-term contract and a passionate basketball philosophy. Shedding to James and the Lakers is now not likely to shake his convictions. Westbrook’s future is hazardous, but Morey could possibly presumably choose to salvage incremental changes within the quick term given his contract.

As a long way as blowing it up and trading Harden?

“[Harden] has a immense display screen story. He makes the playoffs every twelve months, generally now not less than the 2d round. That income is precious,” the former Western Conference executive acknowledged. “He wins 35 video games by himself. Lots of than LeBron, who does that? [Kevin Durant] healthy? Steph [Curry]? Possibly four assorted guys.”

Most teams could possibly well possibly be thrilled to be as aggressive because the Rockets are every season, even when they retain falling quick of a Finals appearance. It could possibly well well possibly furthermore now not be easy or within the extinguish a success, but Morey will likely occupy more time to very finest his Houston experiment.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.