NBA Rumor: Houston Rockets Turmoil?

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Stephen Silas on Rockets' 11th straight loss: 'This was embarrassing'

It’s the 11th straight loss for the Rockets (11-21), who shot the lowest percentage from the field (27.7%) of any game in team history. Houston shot 4-of-45 on 3-pointers (8.9%). Their 23 made field goals tied the lowest of any game by the Rockets, ever. Asked if this was rock bottom for the Rockets, head coach Stephen Silas responded postgame: “I hope so. This was embarrassing.” It’s now the franchise’s longest losing streak in more than 20 years.

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After the Lakers smashed the Rockets for the second game in a row, Harden went to the podium and claimed his team was “not good enough.” These comments infuriated everyone in Houston, from Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta to the players in the locker room, particularly John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, league sources say. Fertitta pushed for a deal to be completed sooner rather than later to move on from Harden, and the teams found something that worked with a four-way deal that brought Victor Oladipo, four first-round picks, and four first-round pick swaps back to Houston. What a whirlwind.

Wall and Cousins have been the players most disgruntled with Harden, and they didn’t hide it, league sources say. This should come as no major surprise after Wall and Cousins publicly blasted Harden following Tuesday’s loss. But there was animosity between Wall and Harden from the beginning of their relationship, league sources say. Wall still sees himself as a player who can be the face of the franchise and felt like Harden was holding him and the team back from reaching their potential, league sources say. As the days passed, the annoyance across the team only grew.

Not only did James Harden test positive in the summer, sources say, but Rockets staffers were alarmed to see social media chatter and photos of Harden at a pool party and other crowded events around that time. It had the makings of an explosive story. But Harden’s positive test only became public months later, which some players felt was evidence the front office’s favorite player had the team’s protection. Unlike Harden, Russell Westbrook disclosed his status when both he and Harden were late reporting to the bubble in Orlando.

“There has been a lot. But I really try to focus on what I can control,” Silas said. “That’s the guys who are in the locker room. That’s the practice plans. That’s the preparation. That’s continuing to preach the adaptability of this season and how important it’s going to be. … The other stuff going on around, I really can’t control. I wouldn’t say I don’t worry about it or think about it. But it’s something that is an aside.”

Verbal confrontations between James Harden and teammates

For instance, The Athletic learned that Harden has had multiple verbal confrontations with teammates in practice on Sunday and Monday, and one confrontation included Harden throwing a basketball at a teammate on Monday. Sources say Harden and rookie Jae’Sean Tate had a heated exchange during Monday’s practice, culminating in Harden throwing the ball in Tate’s direction. The ball did not hit Tate. Interactions like these between teammates during practice can be part of a normal, competitive environment. Harden, however, is known by those in the organization as a laid-back and calm personality —especially as superstars go — and some around the franchise are viewing this as rising to an uncharacteristic level of frustration given his ongoing situation.

Harden appeared in two preseason games for the Rockets, averaging 16 points and 6.5 assists in 24.2 minutes a night. Sources have described Harden as engaged and encouraging with teammates on game nights, discussing strategy and how to improve on the floor. Harden, 31, has made clear that he wants a trade to a contender, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks atop his preferred destinations, according to sources. However, the Rockets have rebuilt the roster, have had strong moments of growth in the preseason and have Harden contractually obligated.

James Harden would be open to trade to 76ers

But Houston has its heels dug in regarding Harden, refusing at this point to consider an offer unless it includes a young franchise cornerstone and a bundle of first-round picks and/or promising players on rookie deals. Sources say Harden, who had been singularly focused on trying to force his way to the Brooklyn Nets, has indicated to the Rockets that he would be agreeable to a trade to the 76ers or other select contenders.

Rockets culture a mess partially due to James Harden

One of Paul’s biggest beefs, sources said, was that Harden basically opted not to participate in the Rockets’ offense when the ball wasn’t in his hands, sometimes barely stepping over half court while spectating when Paul had the ball. Harden quickly tired of Paul barking about his concerns, which included lobbying coach Mike D’Antoni to implement more structure and movement in an offensive system that revolved around Harden’s isolations, sources said.

James Harden demanded Rockets trade for Russell Westbrook

Rockets management believed those issues could be ironed out and wanted to run it back with the Harden-Paul duo last season. Those plans changed as soon as Westbrook became available. Harden insisted the Rockets get the deal done, saying he’d demand a trade if they didn’t find a way to bring his childhood friend and former OKC teammate to Houston, sources said. The Rockets paid a price that was considered steep at the time — Paul, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks, and swap rights in 2021 and 2025.

Stephen Silas has 'good conversation' with Harden

First-year Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas said he had a “good conversation” with James Harden before the perennial All-Star’s first practice of the season Monday, but they did not discuss Harden’s reported desire to be traded. “You can ask him about his commitment and all that sort of thing,” said Silas, who has not been in regular communication with Harden, saying recently that he had given the face of the franchise “space” as he pondered his future. “But we had a good conversation. He was locked in. He was asking good questions. He was bringing up good points. We had a good discussion.”

Russell Westbrook flew from Los Angeles where he lives with a multi-generational family and, sources say, he took the pandemic very seriously. Evidently, he arrived passing every test. But there was a problem: In Texas, the protocols were nothing like as stringent. Restaurants and most businesses were open for indoor business, for much of the Spring bars were too. Masks weren’t ubiquitous, protocols not as rigorous. Sources say Westbrook told the team he was disappointed in their efforts to keep the team COVID free.

What House hadn’t counted on, was that the NBA hotels at Disney were wired up with cameras and sensors. Before long, sources say, it was undeniable that House, himself, had broken the rules. And it was House who had tried, clumsily, to cover his tracks by blaming a teammate. House didn’t play again in the bubble. The Rockets ended their season with four straight losses and more than a little anger. A few weeks later, a TrueHoop source saw House and Harden shooting around. House tried to greet Harden. Harden refused to even acknowledge him.

Harden wanted Tyronn Lue to be his coach in Houston. Sources say Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta did not — he wanted Jeff Van Gundy — and the compromise was Stephen Silas. The point here is, Harden wanted to play for Lue, who is now the Clippers’ coach. He, like a seemingly vast majority of the NBA, spends at least part of his offseasons in Los Angeles, and would probably be open to extending his stay there. He also gives the Clippers something they honestly do not have, a dynamic, scoring ball handler.

Silas was then asked about Wall’s aforementioned interaction with Harden and what it might mean. “The only relationship that I have with James is the fact that he was one of the people who, in the interview process, recommended that I get the job. So that’s the relationship that I have. I assume that the relationship (Harden) has with John goes a lot further down the road, so for that communication to happen doesn’t surprise me and we’ll see when he gets here.”

The Rockets likely don’t want the situation to escalate at this point as it would involve the union. “I’ll tell you this, Mr. MacMahon,” said Zach Lowe. “I have already heard from, I don’t know, three, four people out of the blue today who don’t work for the Rockets but work for the other 29 teams saying ‘the league has to step in and do something about this. This is not okay.’ “This is going to become the latest referendum on player empowerment and when does it go too far? I think it’s a nuanced and fascinating topic. But it’s already spiraling out of control.”

House spoke Wednesday at Toyota Center, where he and other players are starting training camp activities for the upcoming 2020-21 season. In a virtual media availability session, House said the following: I’d like to start off by apologizing to my team, the organization, and the owner for the mishap that happened in the bubble. I’m focused. It’s behind me. It’s in the past. New year, new season. I’m learning, and I’m looking forward to growing and expanding. I’d like to deeply apologize to the fans, also. If you felt I let you down, sincere apologies from me, Danuel House Jr., to everyone.

Rockets trying to fix relationship with James Harden

“The Rockets really want to make James Harden a Rocket for life… They want to try to find a way to rebuild this relationship. If they are gonna move him, they want a mountain in return ie. assets, players, picks.” – ESPN’s @wojespn .

Longtime NBA reporter Ric Bucher went on “The Odd Couple” podcast with Chris Broussard and Rob Parker and shared an interesting tidbit about the discord in Houston. According to Bucher, there is a “revolt” going on, and it’s directly related to Fertitta supporting President Trump. “I immediately thought this was Daryl Morey leaving, and Mike D’Antoni leaving, and Russell Westbrook and James Harden going ‘No offense to Stephen Silas or Rafael Stone, but we don’t want a starter kit, we’re playing for a championship,’” Bucher said on the podcast. “But what I heard is — and we know how much politics and political position had to do with the boycott and protests during the (NBA) bubble — I’m hearing that Tilman Fertitta’s strong Republican support and donations is one of the things that is contributing to this dissatisfaction, and those two [Westbrook and Harden] are not the only ones to want out of Houston. Lesser players are of the same mind. There is a revolt here because they look at Fertitta as a guy who supports the current president.”

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.

Westbrook, sources say, has made it known for quite some time now that he would like to see significant changes to the Rockets’ culture. Specifically, his desire for more team-wide accountability, discipline and structure have been the focus of talks with team officials. Throughout the season, Westbrook was the consistent presence who kept Harden accountable and the two close friends had several verbal exchanges that sources described as “tense, but needed.”

But the removal of these key components — D’Antoni departing for an assistant coaching position in Brooklyn and Morey becoming president of basketball operations in Philadelphia — has left serious doubt in both Harden and Westbrook’s minds of an ability to sustain long-term success, sources said. Although Harden and Westbrook were kept abreast of decisions and offered input, both players are in win-now mode and have raised questions as to whether or not that same mindset is shared with the front office, sources said.

For starters, P.J. Tucker, the undeniable glue of the team, has been irate over his contract situation all season long, sources said. Tucker, who signed for around $8 million a season back in 2017, has seen other ‘Three-and-D’ wings around the league receive paydays in less important situations than a key starter for a contender and believes he is worthy of a raise, sources said. Tucker, sources said, has stated his intent to finish his career as a Rocket for a long time but felt insulted by Houston’s decision to delay extension discussions and wait until after the Feb. 6 trade deadline to guarantee his 2020-21 salary.

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

Former teammates have described the culture in Houston as problematic, sources said, highlighting a situation that caters far too much to its stars. One example cited was the case of Trevor Ariza, who left the team in 2018 in search of more money, but also more respect, sources said. The Rockets attempted to bring him back down the line but Ariza, sources said, was seeking an apology that never came. Former teammates also questioned why players like Clint Capela and Chris Paul were traded, according to sources. There have also been complaints about the team’s style of play, both from former and current players on the team, sources said. Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals was the highlight of such complaints, with the team missing 27 straight 3-pointers and not adjusting or incorporating any other offensive strategy, sources said.

Chris runs hot, too… PJ Tucker: Yeah, Chris is a hothead. But Chris wants to win. Chris might be the most competitive person I’ve ever been around in my life, and I’ve known him my whole life (Tucker and Paul grew up playing against each other on the North Carolina AAU circuit). Like, period. Chris wants to fucking win. Period. Chris wants to win. I don’t care. Chris wants to win.

Does the way he’s wired still help the group? PJ Tucker: I don’t see how it can’t (help the group). I can’t be around somebody who wants to win like that and not want to win. So if you can’t do that, then this might not be where you need to be, because that’s the stuff you need to be able to win. I wasn’t (sweating the recent reports). I ain’t talking to nobody, because I know. I live it every day. There’s nobody on our team together more than me and James and Chris, so why would I sweat it?

Rumors and speculation could not touch Chris Paul now — if they ever could — not here, not on a day like this. The Rockets guard, surrounded by his family in a break in the Go Hoop Day celebrations he co-founded, never seemed more comfortable, more in control, talking about his vision for the event and recognized by the City of Los Angeles for driving it. He had briefly addressed his place with the Rockets and future between portions of the clinics held on Sunday at Crete Academy. But there was one more point to make.

“I never asked for a trade,” Paul said. “I never demanded a trade.” He did not seem angry about the reports that he had, in part because he had nearly completed the day’s events on a near-perfect Southern California afternoon. He had stepped away for a place on nearby picnic tables, surrounded by his large family, munching on a plant-based burger from one of the event’s sponsors, Beyond Meat, as Paul completed his 11th day since becoming a vegan.

The report cited Paul’s frustration with the offense and a push for more ball movement and off-ball actions, a la Golden State. But Paul isn’t the only one. Several members of the team expressed similar opinions throughout the year and into the offseason, including Eric Gordon’s frustration after a blowout loss in Utah, and continuing with Austin Rivers’ appearance recently on First Take. Per team sources, those complaints have been heard and management has discussed a system that involves less isolation basketball and more ball movement heading into next season. Speeding the game up and looking for easier baskets was also brought up in conversations, per a team source.

For what it’s worth, Houston doesn’t see this as a real problem. One source harkened back to the Dwight Howard days, for a real broken and dysfunctional relationship. “There will always be tension when you’re trying to get shit right,” cited one team source. “Every aspect of basketball gets debated at some point, and the way we lost sucked. “We’ve had players (in the past) who didn’t care about anything other than themselves and wanted everyone else to shore them up. We don’t see (Harden/Paul tension) as a big deal.”
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September 18, 2021 | 5:41 pm EDT Update
You’re here for at least the next five years now that you’ve signed an extension. Do you allow yourself to think – or dream – about what might come over that time span since you’ve talked openly about wanting to win a title in New York? Have you allowed yourself to think about how things might progress? Julius Randle: Obviously, it’s a process. Everything is a process. We’ve been building this from the ground up. But for me, personally, that is the expectation (winning a title in New York). That’s what I want to happen within that time frame. There’s a lot of things, factors that go into that. So obviously you’ve got to weigh that stuff in.
Julius Randle: But as far as myself, I know Thibs (Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau) is thinking (it as well), it’s just win at all costs. For me personally, that’s just how I prepare myself. I prepare myself to compete at the highest level of our game. Like I said, there’s a lot of factors (that go into winning an NBA title). But I trust Leon (Knicks president Leon Rose), I trust Thibs, Wes (Knicks vice president William Wesley), our coaches, Scott (Knicks GM Scott Perry) – all these guys, I trust. That was part of my process in thinking of signing the extension and that’s my goal, that’s our goal as a team and the guys that are around us. We want to be able to say that we won a championship here in New York. I don’t think there’s any better feeling than that.
Did you guys see the video clip of Trae Young at the Garden with WWE? Do you care about that stuff? Julius Randle: Yeah I see it. But honestly, I don’t care. Obviously, that’s (for) entertainment purposes and all that (stuff), so I let people enjoy it. For me, honestly, I don’t care. I honestly didn’t even watch it. Knicks fans, they’re going to make a big deal out of it – they didn’t like it (laughs). But it’s all fun and games and hopefully they enjoyed it.
September 18, 2021 | 12:10 pm EDT Update

Rockets re-sign Dante Exum, waive Tyler Bey

The Rockets have officially re-signed guard Dante Exum and waived Tyler Bey to create a roster space for him, according to the NBA’s transactions log. Hoops Rumors’ JD Shaw was the first to report the Bey transaction (Twitter link). With John Wall not expected to play for the team this season as it seeks to trade him, the Rockets were in the market for another point guard. The Rockets’ interest in Exum surfaced on Tuesday.
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Timberwolves sign Leandro Bolmaro

When the Timberwolves traded up to get Leandro Bolmaro last November in the 2020 NBA Draft (yes, it was less than a year ago… it still feels weird), the question was would it be a year or two before Bolmaro came over from Barcelona to play in the NBA. The answer is one. Minnesota reached a deal and Bolmaro will be with the Timberwolves in training camp, the team announced Saturday. This is not a surprise; he was expected to come over this season. He will be playing on a rookie scale contract.
September 18, 2021 | 8:54 am EDT Update
There are reports that Anthony Davis will play center for the Los Angeles Lakers this coming season with LeBron James taking the power forward position. In the past AD said that he does not love playing the five but can do it if needed. Lakers legend James Worthy thinks that the best option is to use the former number one pick in the post. “I think initiating Anthony Davis in the post is the best option,” Worthy said on Spectrum SportsNet. “I’ve never been one of those players to say ‘I don’t wanna play three, I wanna play four. I wanna play.’ I don’t know what the problem is, maybe who he defends or where he is on the floor. I think the five is a good spot for him. Because other fives don’t have a shot at guarding him.