It’s well documented that Russell Westbrook misses the glory days of triple-doubles and MVPs, so we can assume he won’t be a Houston Rocket much longer. What about James Harden? Rumors surfaced last month that he insisted on “getting to Brooklyn,” but Nets star Kevin Durant says that never happened.
If Westbrook leaves Houston and Harden stays, whom should Rockets GM Rafael Stone pair with him?
First off, Durant blowing out the “Harden to Brooklyn” flame shouldn’t surprise anyone. Today’s media, who have deemed themselves in charge of “breaking news and rumors,” has an agenda. These rumors sell like crazy. Nothing’s more interesting than an unhappy superstar, and the NBA seems to have more miserable superstars than any other professional sport. In this case, it looks like Harden is set to stay in Houston long-term, so who exactly should be on the Rockets’ wishlist?
As bad as Playoff P has been, he’s still a perfect fit to be James Harden’s Robin. Paul George is exactly what the Rockets need. He is a strong defender (he was snubbed for Defensive Player of the Year in 2019), he has a strong ability to catch and shoot (career 38% from deep), and he has no problem being a side-kick. In today’s NBA, most borderline stars invite larger roles to create an illusion of being an “alpha dog” that helps players get paid. Paul George would have no problem watching Harden dribble the skin off the ball and readying himself on the defensive end. Paul, a well-known “beta,” would be an ideal fit.
There are better players on the potential trade market, but finding second-tier stars should be the move for Houston. A trade for Russell Westbrook is likely to return very little in assets because of his $41.5 million salary, so the Rockets can’t get too picky. Oladipo has the ability to play off the ball, which would play well with Harden’s strengths. Last season, Westbrook struggled to play with James Harden because he couldn’t figure out how to be effective without the ball in his hands. It even got to the point where Westbrook took his frustrations to the media.
“Right now, I’m just kind of running around,” Westbrook said. “I need to find a way to be effective on the floor.”
Westbrook believes he’s an effective player, but he implies here that he doesn’t know how to play the way the Rockets need him to. He’s right. He has been a terrible fit in Houston, which is why the Rockets need to find players like George or Oladipo, who actually possess the skill set to do what Westbrook can’t.
This one is much less likely because the Chicago Bulls just hired a new head coach. It’s rare that a team hires a new coach and then sends its star player packing before the new guy has a chance to fix what was broken. If Lavine still can’t figure out how to win games in Chicago by the trade deadline however, we might see some action. That’s where a pairing with Harden gets interesting. Lavine can assist the ball, but he’s more of a wing player who could benefit from playing off of James Harden.
Unfortunately, the Rockets will struggle finding assets to move in any deal involving Lavine and that $19.5 million cap hit in 2020-21.
This is another option that might work better than an off-the-ball talent: a big man who can involve himself in a Harden two-man game. The Rockets would ideally like to combine their MVP cornerstone with a more defensive-minded player, but they may have to add the best player available. If Towns continues losing in Minnesota the same way Kevin Love did before he was sent to Cleveland, look for Houston to make a call.
Not everyone’s a fit for James Harden, but now that we know the “beard to Brooklyn” rumors were nothing, the search party is on for his next co-star.