On this episode of the HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto is joined by Jonathan Feigen, the Houston Chronicle’s long-time Rockets beat writer. Scotto and Feigen discuss NBA trade talks involving James Harden and Russell Westbrook, adding Christian Wood, PJ Tucker’s future, and the new regime of Stephen Silas and Rafael Stone for the Houston Rockets. Listen to the podcast above or check out some snippets of the conversation in a transcribed version below.
2:00 Robert Covington trade analysis
3:50 What to expect from Christian Wood on the Rockets
Michael Scotto: To a lot of executives and people around the league I spoke to, it was a little bit of a shocker because Detroit had plenty of cap space to retain this young man who had a breakout season last year on a team that is in a rebuild mode right now.
Jonathan Feigen: Christian Wood last year was the top scorer as a pick-and-roll finisher in the league of anyone with two or more pick-and-roll touches per game. He’s second, I believe, in efficiency inside the restricted area. He’s really a skillful guy at the rim but a 39 percent three-point shooter. He’s the best player they could get at that position, which was absolutely necessary, but he’s the best fit they could get at that position. That’s why everything became about shoring that up. They had to get this guy. From the Covington deal to the Pistons deal and then making it part of a sign-and-trade with the Pistons, it was all about Christian Wood.
6:52 Russell Westbrook’s injury in the bubble
9:25 What’s Houston’s mindset going into training camp with Harden and Westbrook?
Feigen: I think the organization’s mood is extremely cautiously optimistic, but optimistic. The organization has felt all along they need to bring these guys back and let them work with Stephen Silas, let them work with a slightly changed rotation, and let them feel good about that. Things get that way a little more when you’re apart and when you’re playing pickup ball with KD (Kevin Durant), and he’s so excited about what that team can do. You remember those good times in Oklahoma City, and they went to the Finals where Harden has not been since he left Oklahoma City.
12:05 Evaluating whether a Nets trade for Harden is realistic
Scotto: If you want to throw in maybe Kyrie Irving, and they’d get an All-Star player back, then maybe that would tip the scales. If you’re looking at guys like Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, etc. That’s a lot of good players, but it’s not an All-Star back in return. Dinwiddie is ultimately going to opt out of his option and become an unrestricted free agent anyway. They’d have to deal with that.
Feigen: You’re not winning anything in the West with that. If you do that deal, you go from a team that people criticize and talk about to a team that people really like on their way to the lottery. You’re not making the playoffs with that team. The Rockets would go from a team that thinks of themselves as a championship contender to a team that hopes to be a contender to make the playoffs. It would be fun. It would be exciting to watch. It would be like a League Pass favorite. They just wouldn’t be very good.
14:00 Where do the Rockets currently rank in the West?
16:05 What would it take for Houston to move Harden or Westbrook?
Feigen: Harden, that would mean blow it up and start over in so many ways. You’re rebuilding if you move Harden.
I think there’s a sense here, but really around the league, that they need to be patient on any consideration of moving Westbrook until he sort of rebuilds his stock to where teams start looking at him as a superstar again rather than what the last thing they saw, which was Westbrook in the bubble coming off the thigh injury more quickly than he normally would have and coming off COVID. Teams need to see him look like the full Russ again.
18:55 Will Harden or Westbrook be traded this season?
Feigen: Harden, I’d say no. Let’s talk again next summer. Westbrook, my gosh, I don’t know. I guess no, just because it’s hard to get a deal they would find sufficient. If you’re betting on them trading him, you’re not only betting that, yes, they’ll want to, you’re also betting on yes they can and get what they want. I think those two things add up to more likely that he’s not.
23:01 Would the Rockets have won the West, and possibly a title, if Chris Paul didn’t get hurt in the playoffs?
25:00 What to expect from DeMarcus Cousins on the Rockets?
Feigen: What I’ve heard is he looks terrific in his physicals and did a great job in his rehab. Physically, he’s good to go. He looks thin. He’s obviously been working hard. He looks terrific.
28:34 What changes will coach Stephen Silas implement?
32:34 PJ Tucker’s future
Feigen: He’s 35. I don’t know how much of an extension you give to the 35-year-old guy, but I’ve got to think they want him around longer. My prediction on that one would be he probably becomes a free agent, and the Rockets are the team that wants him most. He means a lot to them in a lot of ways for his versatility, for shooting corner threes that’s so valuable to space the floor at the four, plus him in the locker room and his professionalism.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto