Daryl Morey gets – and deserves – a lot of credit for bringing James Harden to the Rockets. But Morey also did a great job getting Harden co-stars.
Morey lured Dwight Howard to Houston. Morey engineered a complex and creative trade for Chris Paul. And when Paul’s relationship with Harden (and maybe Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta) went south, Morey flipped Paul for Russell Westbrook.
Houston gave up significant draft consideration in that trade. The Rockets went even further to build around Westbrook by dealing Clint Capela and making Westbrook their de facto offensive center. That solidified a micro-ball identity with P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington (acquired in the Capela deal with a first-round pick also outgoing) as defensive “bigs.”
But the coach who ran the mad-scientist small-ball scheme, Mike D’Antoni, is gone. The general manager who built this unconventional roster, Morey, is gone.
Now what for Houston?
Marc Berman of the New York Post:
With Houston general manager Daryl Morey stepping down a year after his controversial retweet about China/Hong Kong, league sources believe the Rockets are likelier to look into trading away explosive All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is nearing 32, highly reliant on athleticism and due $132,633,438 over the next three seasons. His value is derived primarily from what he contributes on the court right now.
Could the Rockets – whose goal is ostensibly still remaining in championship contention through Harden’s prime – trade Westbrook without taking an immediate step back?
It seems unlikely. But it’s possible. Perhaps, a team offers the right combination of role players who’d better complement Harden. The Knicks are reportedly interested (though they don’t have the win-now veterans).
Especially because of the Knicks’ interest, I wouldn’t rush to trust this report coming from New York. This strikes me as the type of speculation that tends to spread baselessly in the aftermath of a landscape-shaking event like Morey’s resignation.
There were rumors of a Westbrook trade early last season. But that was before the Rockets learned how to optimize him with micro-ball. And those were fueled by Morey’s proclivity for trading.
Remember, Fertitta said he pushed his reluctant basketball-operations staff – led by Morey – to finalize the Westbrook trade. Fertitta remains in place.
It’s unclear how new Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who worked under Morey, felt about the trade and feels about Westbrook now. The possibility that Berman’s sources have real insight into Stone’s plan makes this report worth considering.
Other possibilities: Fertitta – with his financial issues – might no longer remain committed to paying Westbrook. Houston could pivot and unload its stars to get ahead of rebuilding. It happens.
But I’m not convinced the Rockets will give up on trying to win around Harden. Which means Westbrook likely stays in place.