On Wednesday, troubling reports started to emerge out of Houston, as both Russell Westbrook and James Harden have apparently “expressed concern” about the direction of the franchise in the wake of their second-round playoff exit in Orlando and the resulting fallout that has seen both Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey leave the organization for new opportunities.
Naturally, the upheaval has their star duo wondering about whether the team still has the vision to capitalize on a championship window that could be closing faster than they think. Apparently, there wasn’t any lingering doubt about that on Westbrook’s part, as the former MVP has requested a trade, according to reports.
Soon after, additional information about the dynamics inside the locker room started to come to light as well, painting a stark portrait of discord among their ranks regarding poorly-defined roles and a pervasive lack of accountability, a culture which players have described as “problematic.” This applies to both current and former Rockets players and apparently has been going on for years.
According to the latest report from Kelly Iko, Sam Amick, and Shams Charania of The Athletic, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker have grown increasingly disillusioned with the way their roles have diminished the past couple of seasons, and those are just two examples of the way morale has evaporated.
Austin Rivers, who recently stated on “The Ringer NBA Show” that he would be declining his player option for 2020-21, also experienced a frustrating season. At times, Rivers was unhappy with his inconsistent playing time and utilization, sources said. In one instance, Rivers went on an expletive-laden tirade following a game where D’Antoni called for him to be substituted, only to change his mind and insert new signing DeMarre Carroll. In another instance, Rivers was barked at by Harden after the former MVP missed a free throw and blamed Rivers — who was standing up by the bench — for distracting him.
House was another player who wasn’t pleased with his usage and involvement in the offense and has verbally challenged D’Antoni, Harden, and Westbrook this season, sources said. His January outburst in a road win against the Hawks was the first instance where House publicly lost his cool in that manner but this wasn’t an isolated incident, sources said.
If these reports are accurate, in-fighting and widespread dysfunction appear to be at least partial culprits in the Rockets’ ongoing inability to reach their goal of winning an NBA championship and the source of their current unraveling. The front office, led by new general manager Rafael Stone, face a conundrum on how to move forward, which will in part depend on what they’re able to secure in a Westbrook trade. The landscape in Houston has already shifted drastically, and bigger changes could be on the horizon in the coming weeks as free agency approaches.