Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta insists Chris Paul trade not about rumored rift with James Harden
Despite a relatively quiet free agency, the Houston Rockets made a splash by trading point guard Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, a move owner Tilman Fertitta insists has to do with an opportunity to upgrade their roster rather than the reported rift that swarmed the franchise shortly after a playoff exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
Paul reportedly got into it with fellow star James Harden, miffed that the Rockets’ playoff offense further compounded a style of play that put the ball in The Beard’s hands and took it away from Paul. The rift was denied across the board by members of the organization:
“I don’t think it had a lot to do (with it),” Fertitta told Sam Amick of The Athletic. “I just think that our basketball ops people thought that this was a better option for us to get to the next level, and I think Chris is going to do an unbelievable job for Oklahoma. I think Chris (who has $124 million owed combined over the next three seasons) has a lot of basketball left in him, and I think people are going to see that just because he had some injuries the last couple of years that he’s still one of the top guys in his position in the game. We just feel like the way that we want to play that (Westbrook) is just a little bit better fit.”
A team doesn’t pull a blockbuster trade just for a “little bit better fit,” especially when the team that has eliminated them from the playoffs in four of the last five years is suddenly vulnerable after a five-year reign of terror in the Western Conference.
The Rockets had to have seen more benefits than just an upgrade at the position to shell out draft picks and continuity and gamble on Westbrook, but Fertitta won’t be the man to admit it. The camaraderie between Westbrook and Harden could play a large part in avoiding these rifts, though Westbrook is just as vocal, if not more than Paul himself when discontent.