Yes, Westbrook seemed like the better player, especially due to his relative youth and durability (which didn’t exactly hold up). But his poor outside shooting and unreliable defense made him a worse fit with James Harden. The significant draft consideration surrendered – top-four-protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, a top-four-protected pick swap in 2021 and a top-10-protected pick swap in 2025 – probably could’ve been put to better use upgrading the frontcourt and bench.
But there’s a major caveat: Maybe Harden wanted Paul gone. We can talk all we want about optimal roster construction on paper. If the franchise player was vehemently opposed to playing with Paul, something had to be done.
I still believe that, if necessary, they could have managed that situation. I know a lot of people throughout the organization believed that.
So why make the trade?
Maybe those people were wrong. Though I value the perspective of Rockets employees who had a first-hand look at the relationship, they might not have known the full depth of the Harden-Paul rift.
For what it’s worth, not even Harden could have known how he and Paul would’ve worked together last season. Sometimes, even the people directly involved think a relationship is broken beyond repair and are mistaken. Perhaps, if forced to cooperate, Harden and Paul would’ve come together.
But someone had to make a call about the likelihood and the opportunity to land Westbrook.
Which gets to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta. He reportedly openly griped about Paul’s contract. Fertitta even admitted he pushed for the Paul-Westbrook trade despite reluctance from his basketball-operations department, which was run by Daryl Morey, who just resigned.
Fittingly, Fertitta is now the one who must confront the ramifications – Houston looking good, probably not good enough and relatively stuck.