A new report from Fred Katz and Kelly Iko of The Athletic details from both the Wizards’ and Rockets’ sides why the John Wall-for-Russell Westbrook trade happened, and the main takeaway is that despite their long history of close friendship, Westbrook and James Harden simply could not co-exist “in a realistic basketball situation with a championship as the long-term goal.”
The adjustment both players had to make to sharing the ball, control of the team, and the spotlight, was not as smooth as expected despite their relationship, the report says.
Here’s more on the breakdown of their partnership in Houston:
In a realistic basketball situation with a championship as the long-term goal, sources said, Harden and Westbrook simply couldn’t co-exist on the floor. This isn’t a knock on their personal relationship, an aspect that has been misconstrued in recent weeks. Harden and Westbrook have a deep-rooted friendship that spans over decades, but the NBA is a business. Individual legacies are at stake and winning a championship seems more unlikely by the year. At 31 and 32, respectively, Harden and Westbrook aren’t exactly NBA spring chickens anymore, either.
Nine years ago, when both players were in Oklahoma City, this awkward pairing might not have mattered. Westbrook and Durant shared the spotlight with Harden excelling as the spark plug off the bench. Since then, dynamics have changed. Both Harden and Westbrook have won MVPs, a host of personal accolades, and have established brands for themselves. This, combined with the never-ending clock that is Father Time, made a split almost inevitable.
As Iko notes, Harden faced a bigger change to his offensive style than expected, with Westbrook posting a usage rate 10 percentage points higher than even Chris Paul’s highest-usage Rockets season. That reared its head especially once Westbrook got to the Bubble after recovering from COVID-19 and a quad injury and was less able to create for himself.
With few options on the table via trade because of Westbrook’s enormous salary, the Rockets now face another interesting feeling-out process with Wall.