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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Jonathan Feigen: John Wall used phrases “just quitting,” “not competing every night,” and “having no pride.” Said something else not for the kiddies in the room.
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.
Kelly Iko: James Harden: The situation is crazy and I don’t think it can be fixed. So, yea. Harden proceeded to leave the podium.
Alykhan Bijani: Stephen Silas response when told there are critics saying Harden is not playing hard enough: “He’s done everything I’ve needed him to do. He’s played on the ball, off the ball. He’s played defense…That’s not what I see from him or the group.”
David Hardisty: As the Rockets postgame show goes to commercial break, Calvin Murphy is heard clearly saying “He quit” in reference to James Harden tonight. pic.twitter.com/NqWlqz8W8C
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.”
Tim MacMahon: Source: Rockets are working with NBA office to review video of James Harden at a strip club. If the video circulating on social media is verified to be recent, it is a violation of league’s COVID protocols, which would put Harden’s availability for tonight’s opener in jeopardy.
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.
Do you think that’s a problem that James Harden, the superstar player for the Houston Rockets has not yet talked to his GM? Zach Lowe: If it’s true, it’s a problem. I have actually heard that they have a pretty good relationship dating back years now. So I’m kind of surprised if that’s the case. Maybe he just means he hasn’t talked to him in the last week when he was, you know, MIA from camp and reporting and all that.
“If we exactly knew … where his head was, that I think would be good for everybody,” Silas said. “But we’re dealing in reality which is things change on a day-to-day basis. Things change on a game-by-game basis. And as I said before, my job is to coach this basketball team and make sure that the guys are put in the right position.”
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.
Harden has pushed the Rockets to upgrade every offseason, saying he would want to be traded if they couldn’t contend, sources said. And he had final say on things beyond just travel and practice schedules as well. He could call the shots on personnel moves, both on the roster and the coaching staff, a power he flexed to push for the firing of head coach Kevin McHale and departures of co-stars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, sources said.
MULTIPLE ROCKETS OFFICIALS acknowledge that the entire organization has been “complicit” in the culture that has been created over the past eight years. “We knew who the boss of the organization was,” a former Rockets assistant coach said. “That’s just part of what the deal was when you go to Houston. The players, coaches, GM, owner all know. “I don’t blame James. I blame the organization. It’s not his fault. He did what they allowed him to do.”
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.
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.
Sources said Westbrook frequently expressed his displeasure during the season with not being able to “play my game,” as he put it. There were questions about the Harden-Westbrook fit when they were pushing to play together again, including D’Antoni privately expressing his concerns, sources said.
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.”
“We talked basketball,” Silas said. “I’m a basketball coach, and he’s a basketball player. We talked hoop today. As far as his commitment to what we’re doing basketball-wise, he was right there. As far as the rumors and all the other stuff I can’t speak to, again, that’s another question you’ll have to ask of him.”
Ryan McDonough: There have also been lower level moves that I think most people probably don’t know about. Hiring bodyguards or security guys, or strength and conditioning coaches, that’s happened in Houston, where multiple people have been granted access to the team or put on the team payroll, and been allowed to be around the team because that’s what James wants.
Harden is in Houston complying with the NBA’s coronavirus testing protocol, and sources close to the team and Harden expect the former league MVP to remain professional. The NBA ruled on Wednesday that Harden must register six negative coronavirus tests before practicing with the Rockets, a source said.
Harden has been non-communicative with the front office at times, sources say, but has maintained a dialogue with Rockets assistant coach John Lucas. He is expected to have a workout in front of Rockets personnel soon, according to sources.
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.
The virus caused him to miss weeks of training camp and he went on to have a sub-par playoffs. Sources say that Westbrook’s trust in the organization would never recover.
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.
Another source told me many players see it as an affront that House is still on the team and in training camp right now.
That’s the theme of the Rockets. Pessimism. One source said “they might end up as the worst team in the league.” Another made a joke about the Rockets falling off the map—which, get it?—would prove that Kyrie Irving had been right when he said the world was flat. No one can imagine a free agent wanting to play there. It’s hard to find anyone who expects great things.
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.
Early on in the Rockets’ coaching search, management asked for Harden’s input, and Silas, the son of former NBA player and coach Paul Silas, was not among Harden’s top choices, the person told USA TODAY.
Most NBA teams function like monarchies, with all the palace intrigue of The Crown. Various figures jostle and backstab in the hunt for the billionaire’s attention. By the end of the process, to many Rockets’ staffers, it became clear that Brown and Stone had entered Fertitta’s good graces, which is no small thing.
Soon, the same was true of Morey. Key NBA business partners in China grew irate over a tweet from Morey in support of protestors in Hong Kong. There was immense business pressure to fire Morey immediately—the fallout was said to cost the league hundreds of millions in lost revenue. Within the Rockets, there were—TrueHoop sources say—discussions about terminating Morey for cause.
Rockets staffers who want to know what Tilman Fertitta is thinking make a point of tuning in to Stephen A. Smith on ESPN. They suspect Stephen A., who has often had Fertitta as a guest (and fawns over him more than anyone else in the media) is Fertitta’s mouthpiece. On February 6, Stephen A. sent strong signals that A) he was close enough to Fertitta to speak for him, and B) Fertitta had little confidence in D’Antoni and Morey.
Much has happened to erode employees’ trust in the organization, including signs of belt-tightening. Fertitta earned a certain reputation with the staff years ago when he made them stay in his casino hotel in old Vegas for summer league, while most teams—and a few select executives like Stone and Brown—stayed in high-end hotels on the strip.
Salman Ali: According to @Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets still want to get James Harden into training camp with John Wall. Says Houston wants to avoid fining and suspending Harden. pic.twitter.com/GXFlITNXDx
The Rockets were definitely expecting Harden to report over the weekend and get to work (after going through league COVID-19 protocol to be cleared). They were surprised by this just like everyone else.
And for anyone wondering if Harden might have told team officials that he has no plans to wear a Rockets jersey this season — or, perhaps, ever again — sources say that’s not the case. There has been no such declaration, and the plan remains for him to suit up for the Rockets this season.
As for the prospects of him being traded, sources say the Rockets’ demands remain unchanged even after these past few days: An All-Star/All-NBA level player in return, as well as a treasure trove of other assets (young prospects, first-round draft picks, etc.). But as of Monday afternoon, sources say, the trade market wasn’t responding to these demands in the kind of way that would inspire a move.
Sources: These are unprecedented times for all involved, but there are rules and regulations surrounding this season for a very serious reason. Yet while Harden is clearly in violation of team rules in terms of reporting, it’s not clear as yet if his choices will result in discipline from either the Rockets or the NBA. “You’d like to get through it holistically,” one Rockets source said.
Sources: There’s some small sense here from the Rockets that this is James being James. He’s a known life-of-the-party type guy who — in non-pandemic times — was known to jet-set in pursuit of a good time only to hurry back to Houston while finding a way to perform at an MVP level. Yet while this is clearly different, his absence does not appear to have been packaged with a clear message attached.
There is significant confusion about what, if anything, he is trying to accomplish by staying away that goes beyond the messages already being sent. As for rival executives who are closely monitoring the situation, there’s confusion, and plenty of intrigue, there too.
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.
Ben DuBose: Eric Gordon on the whether Danuel House Jr. needs to rebuild trust in the locker room: “No. He just needs to play basketball. … He’s just got to come out and play. I wouldn’t say that he needs to worry about anything.”
“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.”
Ramona Shelburne on Russell Westbrook: I thought he was trying to get to some good teams. That was that was the initial Intel I had. And then I had a couple more conversations and I turned around on a completely like, just it sounds like he and James didn’t get along. That whole partnership didn’t work. And he wants to go and be the man again. That’s just the vibe that I get.
Alykhan Bijani: PJ Tucker’s Instagram stories last night (via @pjtucker / Instagram)
In a conversation on ESPN’s The Jump, veteran NBA insider Zach Lowe said this of the current situation between the Rockets and their stars: From what I’ve heard today, the Rockets are trying to remain calm. There’s nothing imminent. They think they can repair whatever needs to be repaired, and enter next season with both of these guys on the team, and hopefully get off to a strong start.
But I’ve got news for them. The ball’s not in their court. The ball is in James Harden’s court, more than anyone else’s. The moment he walks in there and says ‘Hey, we gave it a shot, I’ve had enough,’ is the moment the whole situation blows up. We haven’t reached that point yet.
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.”
In essence, one source said, Westbrook would like to see something closer to the Thunder culture that he helped create during his time in Oklahoma City from 2008 to 2019 as a way of making him more comfortable. The organization, in turn, has been receptive to these requests and is focused on building the sort of environment that functions better for everyone — Westbrook included.
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.
There has been an overwhelming amount of support for Silas as he prepares to coach his own team for the first time in 20 years of experience, as well as Stone’s new position as general manager. However, as it pertains to both Harden and Westbrook, there is concern about the direction the team is heading in, specifically worried that the team may prefer a rebuild sooner rather than later, sources said. With both stars still in the prime of their careers and the championship window that was once wide open now shut considerably, both have zero interest in a rebuild, sources said.
Truth be told, this Westbrook development is merely the latest challenge in what has been a trying time for the Rockets. And he’s hardly the only player who has been struggling with frustration. The pressures of winning a championship, fighting against a slew of healthy competition and their own career clocks, so to speak, resulting in a season that showed a lack of cohesion and “a mess,” as one source described it.
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.
Eric Gordon, who won Sixth Man of the Year in 2017 endured a difficult season from an injury standpoint, but was also not pleased with how his role and importance had diminished since the 2016-17 season, sources said. The Rockets haven’t been consistent with how they’ve used Gordon, at times being a bonafide scoring option and other times an expensive catch-and-shoot option.
Gordon has expressed displeasure on a number of occasions, with Lucas taking the lead on keeping him focused, sources said. The question of whether Danuel House or Gordon should start has been a talking point for two seasons, although Gordon has often expressed a lack of preference with coming off the bench or starting — instead wanting his role defined and clear.
Internally, there were a number of options discussed to best optimize his skillset, with one approach being not having Gordon share the floor as much with Harden and Westbrook at the same time, sources said. This, however, would require D’Antoni reducing his staggering strategy, something that he wasn’t keen on doing, sources said.
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
A large chunk of the angst, however, stems from a lack of accountability, sources said. During the January locker room meeting following a home loss to Portland, Westbrook, who was leading the meeting, went around the room indicating what was wrong and what each player needed to do to fix the losing streak, starting with himself, sources said. When it came to Harden, however, he wasn’t as receptive to criticism as other teammates, sources said.
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.
As the Houston Rockets navigate an offseason of major change, a new challenge is emerging for the franchise — the uncertainty of former MVP guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook on their futures with the team, sources tell ESPN.
In the wake of the departures of head coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey, Harden and Westbrook have expressed concern about the direction of the franchise through direct conversations or discussions with their representatives and the Rockets’ front office, sources said.
“There was audible shouting in the postgame locker room…I’m told Rockets players were holding each other accountable to bring better body language, bring better effort on the floor.” Our NBA Insider @ShamsCharania reports from the bubble ahead of Lakers-Rockets Game 5.
Salman Ali: James Harden on why he decided to get extra shots up post-game: “Just getting back to the basics. When you’re struggling, you try to get back to the fundamentals and the basics of your shot-form. Form-shooting and things like that.”
Alykhan Bijani: James Harden: “We’re playing well, playing well and then (we) stop doing the things that were getting us the lead. Sooner or later, we’re going to put a four-quarter game together and just build off that.” #Rockets
Tim MacMahon: Thunder 112, Rockets 107 (final). Houston blows a 17-point lead in the final 15:20 of the Rockets’ fourth straight loss and fifth in six games. OKC scored 41 points in the fourth quarter.
Tim MacMahon: Mike D’Antoni: “Right now, we’re in a period where if something goes bad, it goes bad. When it rains, it pours, and it’s pouring.”
After a rocky summer in which their [James Harden and Chris Paul’s] prickly inner dynamics were revealed to the outside world and certainly played a part in the Westbrook move, sources say that a familiar debate – how much they focus on offense vs. the need to take more of a prideful approach to defense – has been a point of early frustration among the players yet again and a topic of great focus.
In a later interview with ESPN, Mr Fertitta insisted that his relationship with Mr Morey remained strong. “I have the best general manager in the league,” Mr Fertitta told ESPN. “Everything is fine with Daryl and me. We got a huge backlash, and I wanted to make clear that (the organisation) has no (political) position. We’re here to play basketball and not to offend anybody.”
Difference of opinions on Twitter within the Houston Rockets: after a message of support for the cause of Hong Kong by team GM Daryl Morey, Rockets’owner Tilman Fertitta has distanced himself and the franchise on the issue, claiming that “Morey does NOT speak for the Houston Rockets” and referencing to the team presence in Japan for the NBA preseason.
Tilman Fertitta: Listen…. @dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization. @espn https://twitter.com/dmorey/status/1180312072027947008
Olgun Uluc: Interesting situation going on with Rockets GM, Daryl Morey, right now: – Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong. – Rockets owner, Tilman Fertitta, quickly distanced the team from the tweet, which has a big Chinese fanbase. – Morey’s latest tweet has been ratioed by Chinese users. pic.twitter.com/5pEHPudZ58
Daryl Morey: Tokyo wakes up.
Paul and Harden have been communicating since the season ended and had a positive conversation on Father’s Day, sources said. According to sources close to Paul and Harden, the two players must continue working toward fixing any issues and accomplish the goals they both have set out: Winning a championship in Houston.
Tim MacMahon: Houston player to me recently: “I hope they don’t panic. I hope they don’t make drastic moves. We are right there. We’ve just got to figure out some things, fine tune some things, but we are right there. We don’t need to change much. It’s not the time to f—ing panic.”
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.
By then, the day’s celebration of basketball might have made it difficult to get too worked up over the off-season rumor mill. Paul was much more effusive about that cause, but he did briefly address speculation that he wants to leave the Rockets and that there is a rift with star backcourt mate James Harden. “I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”
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.”
“I think they’re close,” Danuel House told The Athletic. “They talk all the time, they do a lot together and they joke all the time. But they work differently.” “I felt like there wasn’t any tension, me personally being there. But being a younger guy and sticking to my role and trying to lock in, I can’t really focus on what happened or what’s been said or done.”
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April 16, 2021 | 8:10 pm EDT Update
Shams Charania: The Celtics are waiving Moe Wagner to create roster space for Jabari Parker, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium . Wagner has averaged nearly six points and three rebounds this season, and was productive in his starts in Washington prior to being traded.
April 16, 2021 | 8:06 pm EDT Update
Shams Charania: Free agent Jabari Parker has agreed to a deal with the Boston Celtics, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium .
Chris Bosh: Like everyone else who pays attention to basketball, I was shocked this week at the news that LaMarcus Aldridge was retiring. Over fifteen lights-out seasons in the NBA, LaMarcus became a seven-time All-Star, with a fadeaway jumper you just had to admire, even if he was draining it in your face. But he also became the kind of player you could develop a relationship with from the stands or through the TV: a big man who could run the court and put up big numbers on both sides of the ball—and never let his head get too big about it.