The Rockets have hit a potential crossroads.
Could they trade Russell Westbrook? Could they trade James Harden?
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta on CNBC, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
“You have James Harden and Russell Westbrook and you have almost 90 percent of your salaries tied up in them and Eric Gordon,” Fertitta said in his weekly CNBC appearance, “But anytime you have players like Eric, P.J. (Tucker), James and Russell, there’s no reason to blow up your roster.
“This is still our window, the next couple years. James and Russell are in their early 30s. We’re not blowing up anything. We plan on contending. I always said you want to set yourself up to be one of the top four teams in your conference each year and then it takes a little luck to win. You look at every year it always takes a little luck.
“So, we’re going to set ourselves up to make the moves, to be one of the top teams. We’re going to do whatever we have to do to win. I can promise that to my fans and compete for the NBA championship this year.”
Fertitta will do whatever it takes to win. Except pay the luxury tax.
Even with his spending limitations, this is probably the prudent course. The Rockets are so far down the road toward championship contention. It would be difficult to pivot into a new direction.
Fertitta is also correct that winning a title requires luck. To a certain degree, teams can only put themselves in the mix then hope for the best.
But among championship contenders, some teams need fewer breaks than others. Houston looks like a team that needs more.
If the Rockets were good enough to win a title last season, they were barely good enough. The barely got past the Thunder in the first round and were overmatched against the eventual-champion Lakers in the second round.
And that was with an old team.* Houston also capped out and short on future draft picks. It’ll be difficult to upgrade this aging, barely good-enough-at-best roster.
*The Rockets had the NBA’s third-oldest team** during the regular season (behind only the Lakers and Bucks). Though the Lakers and Bucks also made the playoffs, Houston had the NBA’s oldest team** during the postseason.
**Weighted by playing time
Last year, Fertitta said, “I can promise you, we’re going to win some championships with James Harden.” As much bluster as he still displays, Fertitta has downgraded his talk to merely TRYING to win titles.
For good reason.