After nine years and eight seasons with the Houston Rockets, franchise icon James Harden had decided that he had enough. Harden and the Rockets reached the Western Conference Finals twice but never made it to the NBA Finals, much less won a championship.
Prior to the 2019-20 season, Harden swapped out his former guard of choice in Chris Paul for his longtime childhood friend in Russell Westbrook. The move gave Harden his third star teammate, joining the likes of Dwight Howard and the aforementioned Paul, and each of the previous duos reached the Western Conference Finals, falling to the Golden State Warriors each time.
The Rockets felt they had a legitimate chance in 2019-20, due to the dismantling of the superteam Warriors, which created more parity around the league. Harden and Westbrook struggled out the gate, which was to be expected considering Westbrook’s style of play being drastically different than the Rockets’ style of play.
As the season progressed, Westbrook yielded his most efficient season, up until the league shutdown due to the novel coronavirus. When the season returned, Westbrook wasn’t exactly the same, as he had contracted COVID-19 and suffered a quadriceps injury, which he never fully recovered from, and stifled the Rockets’ postseason hopes in Orlando, the site of the NBA’s bubble.
Steve Francis questions why Harden wanted to leave Houston Rockets
After the season concluded, Harden requested a trade, which seemed odd considering how he was so excited about the prospect of playing alongside Westbrook that he asked the Rockets’ front office to mortgage their future to acquire the 2016-17 MVP. Not to mention the fact that it generally takes more than one season for newly formed duos to thrive, and especially in the unusual 2019-20 season.
Former Rockets franchise player Steve Francis also questions why Harden wanted to leave the Rockets, when asked to share his thoughts on NBC Houston’s Sports Sunday with Ari Alexander.
“I see that he didn’t want to play for the organization. I don’t see why he didn’t, I mean they gave him every single player that he wanted.
But sometimes you want that itch for a different challenge in a different place. And I think New York, for him, is what he wants. The lights, the dressing and all of that.
So hopefully he gets what he wants over there, but I know the Rockets are going to continue to build.”
Francis added that he had been in a similar situation with the now defunct Vancouver Grizzlies, which made him more credible to speak on the matter, and he chimed in on how a departure from such a situation may not always be handled best by the player that wants out.
“The way that you handle those types of things could have been 100 percent better.”
As Francis alluded, the Rockets are still in a good spot, thanks to new GM Rafael Stone and the remainder of the Rockets’ front office, which are predominantly comprised of hold overs from the old regime led by Daryl Morey, who won the Executive of the Year award not too long ago.
Harden’s Nets face a tight window of delivering on a championship, as Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant all have a player option at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season and could all leave Brooklyn. Fortunately for the Rockets, they hold the keys to Brooklyn’s future, as they netted four first-round draft picks in the deal, in addition to four pick swaps.
Although Harden’s motives and requests don’t exactly make sense to many, the Houston Rockets have remained competitive without him, while stockpiling assets at the same time.