Will Rockets’ Tilman Fertitta be able to convince James Harden to stay?

PJ Tucker #4, James Harden #13 and team owner Tilman Fertitta of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
PJ Tucker #4, James Harden #13 and team owner Tilman Fertitta of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Although James Harden has made it clear that he wants to leave the Houston Rockets, team owner Tilman Fertitta could hold the key to keeping Harden in the Space City.

The Houston Rockets face a quandary with James Harden, who has made it known that he wants to be dealt elsewhere, although Harden’s presence would easily make the Rockets one of the best teams in the Western Conference. There has been a gamut of reports and speculation as to why he may want out, and many people believe Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta may be the reason.

We’ve heard that Harden was upset with Fertitta for leaking his “trade request”, and that Harden is unhappy and/or uncomfortable with Fertitta’s political affiliations, specifically his support for Donald Trump. We haven’t heard Harden actually speak on the matter so any reports regarding why he wants out is purely speculation.

Any hope of Harden reversing course would seem to hinge on Fertitta being able to talk to his franchise player and assure Harden that he’s committed to building a contender with the Rockets. Barring a last-minute trade, Fertitta is currently slated to pay the luxury tax, which would be his first time doing so since becoming the owner.

This has essentially been a determinant of how the Fertitta ownership is viewed and assessed, as he’s had his executives do gymnastics to avoid paying the tax, although many believe such a decision would have led to Harden and the Rockets having already won a title.

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Will Houston Rockets owner Fertitta be able to change James Harden’s mind?

Fertitta could have difficulty having a discussion with Harden, as it’s been reported that Harden hasn’t been answering or returning the Rockets’ calls. The positive for Rockets fans is that such a situation has taken place with the franchise before, as Rockets broadcaster and former forward Matt Bullard explained on Sports Sunday, which airs on Houston’s NBC-affiliate KPRC.

“I lived through a situation like this back in 1992 when Hakeem Olajuwon was fighting with the Houston Rockets, trying to get a new contract. Both Hakeem and Charlie Thomas, the owner of the Rockets at the time, were able to sit down on a flight to Japan and hash things out. So I’m hoping that a similar type of thing will happen here with James Harden and Tilman Fertitta, with the Rockets here in 2020.

This is one of those touchy situations where the owner has to be able to talk with his best player, convince him to stay.”

Fertitta has publicly backed Harden since he held out of Rockets camp, stating that he understands that Harden wants to win a title and that he hopes it happens with the Rockets.

If Fertitta is able to actually talk with Harden, it shouldn’t be difficult to convince him, as the current Rockets roster contains two former stars in DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, in addition to rising star Christian Wood, not to mention current Rockets coach Stephen Silas, who spoke about wanting to make life easier for Harden during his introductory press conference.

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It’s unclear what will happen with Harden, as the reports seem to vary almost daily, but Bullard is right: Fertitta will have to be able to convince his best player to stay in order for Harden to re-commit to the Rockets.