New came down the wire on Thursday morning indicating that Daryl Morey had stepped down from his position as general manager of the Houston Rockets. It was a surprising decision to some, while others were happy to see him go. Still, it leaves the team with an uncertain future. For instance, will All-Stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden remain as teammates in Houston, or will the franchise look to move in a different direction?
In this piece, we’ll discuss why the Rockets should look to keep The Brodie and The Beard on the roster.
Morey isn’t the only notable figure that won’t be with the Rockets in the coming season. After four seasons and a second-round playoff exit in the 2019-20 campaign, Mike D’Antoni decided to step down as the head coach in Houston. The 69-year-old West Virginia native took over from interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff early in the 2012-13 season and finished 67-87 with the team.
It may seem like the sky is falling in Houston, but there is room for optimism. With Harden and Westbrook aboard, the Rockets played their way to a 44-28 overall record in the 2019-20 regular season, earning a No. 4 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. Without their All-Star caliber play on the court, it’s hard to say where the team may have finished. One could speculate that their record may have looked much different.
Other players stepped up for the Rockets throughout this campaign. Guys like P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon played key roles, but it was Harden and Westbrook leading the charge on most nights. In fact, Harden led the team in scoring (34.9 per game), assists (7.5) and steals (1.8), while Westbrook led in rebounds (7.9). Clearly, James and Russ were important to Houston’s success. It begs the question: Which player on the roster would provide such a lift if these two weren’t on the team?
Sure, the Rockets could look to trade one or the other (or both). But would they get enough value in return? Money would be an issue, to be sure, as Westbrook is guaranteed for two more years at figures of $41.4 million and $44.2 million.
Westbrook joined the Rockets prior to the start of this season by way of a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has a player option at $47.1 million, but that doesn’t come until 2022-23, when he’ll be 33. Regardless, it’s probably safe to say he’ll be looking to exercise said option when the time comes.
Harden is a player that would be hard to replace for any team. He averaged 29.9 points in the playoffs, and in many cases, he was the spark driving the Rockets. Notably, he signed one of the biggest extensions in NBA history back in 2017, agreeing to the terms of a deal that is worth a reported $228 million. Like Westbrook, Harden has a player option in 2022-23.
Whether or not Harden and Westbrook will remain in Houston remains to be seem. Ultimately, the Rockets are looking for more in the postseason, as they haven’t been able to get back to the conference finals since coming within a game of knocking off the Golden State Warriors in 2018. In our humble opinion, it would be in Houston’s best interest to keep these two stars aboard, even if it means adjusting to a new coach.