The Rockets built their championship hopes on two superstars. Now, both of those superstars want out.
A week after multiple media outlets, including the Houston Chronicle, reported that Russell Westbrook requested a trade, those same reports say James Harden is trying to force his way out as well.
On Monday, the Houston Chronicle’s Brian T. Smith reported Harden wants to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets to team up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Later on Monday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania confirmed that Harden wants to play elsewhere and wants to be part of a contender, with Brooklyn and Philadelphia topping his wish list.
NEW GUY IN CHARGE: Everyting you need to know about new Rockets coach Stephen Silas
So, the season is just five weeks away and the Rockets’ two biggest pieces no longer want to be here.
However, there’s a wide gap between players wanting to be traded and teams actually trading them.
Both Harden and Westbrook are under contract for two more seasons with an attractive player option for a third season. The Rockets are likely ready to move on from Westbrook, who is owed $85.5 million over the next two season with a $47 million player option for the third season. And that contract is exactly why there aren’t many suitors for Westbrook.
The Clippers, Knicks and Hornets reportedly are interested in swinging a deal for Westbrook, but none of them are going to give a huge bounty to take on that contract. If Rockets’ first-year general manager Rafael Stone can find a suitable taker for Westbrook, he’d likely be all in.
That leaves Harden.
Harden is owed the same money as Westbrook, but Harden is also still an MVP candidate and a top-five player in the league. The Rockets won’t be trading Harden unless they can get an overwhelming package like the Thunder got from the Clippers for Paul George last offseason.
The Nets have all their first-round picks – including No. 19 overall in Wednesday’s draft – plus several promising players who are in their mid-20s, including Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. Even that doesn’t seem to be enough to trade for an MVP candidate still in his prime at 31 years old.
In his new job with the 76ers, Daryl Morey no doubt is salivating at the prospect of once again trading for Harden. Morey would have to include Ben Simmons in any deal, but then his offerings would start to get slim.
So, what’s Harden and Westbrook’s future in Houston?
Bottom line: The Rockets hold all the cards, and they absolutely could – and probably should – opt to run it back, unless they find someone willing to take Westbrook’s contract off their hands.