Editor’s comment : This story was originally published on the 16th. December 2020 published. The Houston Rockets traded James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, according to ESPN sources Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.
The culture of the HOUSTON ROCKETS during the James Harden era, which included two owners and now four head coaches, can best be summed up in three words from the former staff member:
Whatever James wants.
Unless they were on top of the field, it was almost certain that the Rockets would be out a night – or even an extra day – after games in Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities that are among Harden’s favorite stops.
If the Rockets had two or three days between games, it would be a good idea for Harden to take a day off and charter a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city. He always gets leave at the first practice after the All-Star break for the same reason.
It’s just that James is James, and those in the franchise are saying that now. But these circumstances are radically different from those of the previous eight years of the Houston All-Star program.
Harden urged the Rockets to upgrade their equipment each offseason and said he would gladly trade them in if they can’t compete, according to sources. And he had a definitive opinion on more than just travel and training plans. Sources said he could take a beating on the staff, both on the roster and the coaching staff, the force he blamed for the firing of head coach Kevin McHale and the departure of co-stars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.
And the Rockets thought it was a good thing to do what Harden wanted to keep an elite historical player happy. But when Harden tried to pressure the Rockets into trading him in recent weeks, despite the lack of an offer they felt was fair, it wasn’t an annual ultimatum to improve. It was more than that.
After leaving the Rockets in the cold with little interaction at the opening of camp, Harden made his absence the focus of rookie head coach Steven Silas during the first few days of practice. And after blowing up the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols, exposing himself during the pandemic and bragging about it on Instagram, Harden revealed what could happen if he doesn’t get what he wants.
Yes, he will pretend, the former Rocket Service employee said.
He’s never heard no.
teams that can make real offers for James Harden
Error! The file name is not specified. After eight seasons with the Rockets, James Harden is lobbying for a Houston deal. Michael Reeves/Getty Images
The OFFICIAL MAJORITY of the ROCKETS recognizes that the entire organization has participated in the culture that has emerged over the past eight years.
We knew who the boss of the organization was, said a former assistant coach of the Rockets. It’s only part of the journey to Houston. Players, coaches, GMs, owners, everyone knows it.
I don’t blame James. I blame the organization. It’s not his fault. He did what they allowed him to do.
However, there is no consensus among current and former Rocket Service officials and employees that giving Harden the authority to go to such extremes was the wrong path. Prior to Harden’s arrival in Houston, the Rockets tended to be carefree in the NBA, missing the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons.
Former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had a hunch that the sixth man of the year would become a true superstar when he sent Kevin Martin, then rookie Jeremy Lamb and a bunch of NBA selections to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Harden. Since then, the Rockets have not missed the playoffs, the only franchise that can claim it.
If they get a lot of days off, everyone knows it: James is going to fly off and have a good time. But he comes back and does a 50-point triple, so they’re okay with that.
Member of the Houston 2019-20 coaching staff.
Houston failed to reach their ultimate goal during their tenure with Harden, reaching the Western Conference finals twice but never getting past it. But Harden’s intelligence, his 2017-18 MVP and top-three finishes in the poll four times in the past six years have given Houston a realistic hope of winning just a handful of teams a season.
He’s also one of the toughest stars in the sport, regularly among the league’s leaders and often the victim of injuries like sprained ankles or bruised shoulders that force other players to rest. All of this made it easier for the Rockets to take their eyes off Harden’s difficult lifestyle.
If they get a lot of days off, everyone knows it: James is going to fly away and have some fun, said a member of the coaching staff from last season. But he comes back and does a 50-point triple, so they’re okay with that.
But the lack of discipline and attention to detail didn’t please Paul and Russell Westbrook, eventually leading to a rift between Harden and the two stars.
Harden’s franchise era peaked in Paul’s first season in Houston when the Rockets won a league record 65 regular season games and built a 3-2 lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. But the Rockets lost the final two games of the series with Paul suspended – a phrase that would forever haunt Houston fans – and the chemistry between the dominant rivals in ball handling exploded the following season.
According to some sources, one of Paul’s biggest complaints was that Harden generally did not participate in the Rockets’ offense when the ball was not in his hands, and sometimes barely crossed half the court to look when the ball was in Paul’s hands. Harden soon grew tired of Paul’s barking about his concerns, including coach Mike D’Antoni’s desire to bring more structure and movement to an offensive system that revolved around Harden’s isolation, according to sources.
Rockets management thought these problems could be fixed and wanted to go back to last season with the Harden-Paul duo. Those plans changed as soon as Westbrook showed up.
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Harden insisted on a deal with the Rockets and said he will demand a deal if they don’t find a way to bring his childhood friend and former OKC teammate to Houston, according to sources. The Rockets paid what was considered a high price at the time – Paul, 2024 and 2026 first peak rounds, plus trade rights in 2021 and 2025.
According to sources, Westbrook often expressed frustration during the season because he couldn’t play my game, as he said. Sources have questioned whether Harden-Westbrook would be a good choice to play together again, including D’Antoni, who has voiced his concerns privately.
Inside and out, those concerns were allayed when Westbrook rebounded after the Rockets took a small ball that opened the floor. He averaged 32.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game and shot 53.1 percent from the field in the two months before the season ended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
CASUAL CULTURE Houston shocked Westbrook. Although he enjoys the same superstar privileges in Oklahoma City as Harden in Houston, the Thunder operate with the discipline of a military unit under Westbrook’s watchful eye. The Rockets are a stark contrast, especially last season under D’Antoni, who was never known for his discipline and who was a lame duck in the final year of his contract after a negotiated overtime win fell twice in the summer.
Westbrook does not tolerate delays. In the case of the Rockets, the scheduled departure time was considered an easy offer by Harden and others.
Nothing ever starts on time, said a former Rocket Service employee. The plane is always late. The bus is never on time. … It’s just an organized team from the AAU.
Arriving at the Florida Bubble, Harden waited for his daily COVID-19 test just before the Rockets started shooting. When he wasn’t in time, Westbrook barked: Start the movie! Start without them! D’Antoni explained that we would have to start from scratch on arrival at Harden, which didn’t exactly reassure Westbrook.
It’s not clear if Westbrook or Harden wanted to go first, but they didn’t want to play another season together after the Rockets promised their future in the draft.
Maury, the man who negotiated the deal with owner Tilman Fertitta, left before any of the stars asked for the sale. Rafael Stone, who was promoted to general manager and became president of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball operations after Mori’s resignation, faced the chaotic aftermath.
In November, a well-placed Rockets source told ESPN that the franchise was ready to enter the season with disgruntled superstars on the roster. After all, the Rockets began trading Westbrook shortly before camp opened. They sent him to the Washington Wizards for John Wall (due to a two-year hiatus) and defended his first pick, acknowledging that the previous off-season deal to acquire Westbrook had proven to be a disastrous decision.
But Houston is on the hunt for Harden and, for now, refuses to consider an offer that would not include a young franchise and a roster of rookie and/or promising players on rookie contracts. According to sources, Harden, who was trying to work his way to the Brooklyn Nets, has indicated to the Rockets that he would be willing to trade with the 76ers or other select contenders.
After the Rockets made it clear that they would not be shocked by the accident, Harden postponed his visit to camp, preferring to hang out with rapper Lil Baby. He gave his friend a Prada bag full of honey buns, a $100,000 brick of cash (aka Honey Bun) and a six-figure Richard Mille watch for Lil Baby’s birthday – while Silas remains in limbo.
Harden registered on the 8th. December with the Rockets, a week after his teammates tested negative for the NBA coronavirus six days in a row and finally trained with the team on Monday. He had a good conversation about basketball strategy with Silas, according to the coach, who has had minimal communication with his leader thus far.
Harden spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since his late arrival at training camp, but did not immediately respond to questions about his ability to be traded.
The Rockets will hope Harden, who played 21 minutes in Tuesday’s preseason win over the San Antonio Spurs, behaves professionally as they patiently probe the transfer market and seek a deal that won’t condemn the franchise to a long and painful recovery.
You can’t be mad at your kid if you make him eat candy every night and then suddenly one night he can’t and has a tantrum, said a former Houston assistant coach. You’re the one who makes him eat candy every night.
The Rockets turned the organization over to James and now have to live with the consequences.