The final pieces of the domino appear to be falling into place in what is easily the most compelling offseason we’ve had in the NBA in the past few years. By successfully pairing two former MVP’s of the past three seasons in James Harden and newly-acquired superstar point guard Russell Westbrook, the Houston Rockets instantly made waves in what was shaping up like a mediocre summer for the organization.
All in all, this does appear to be a good deal for all parties involved. When the Oklahoma City Thunder lost Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, it was a clear indication of the team’s intention to move on to the next chapter in their franchise. The next logical step in their impending rebuild was to offload Westbrook, who himself was not willing to start from scratch with OKC. The Thunder front office will still need to deal with Chris Paul’s monster contract, but at this point, this is still definitely a win for their part.
However, what we believe is that the biggest winners emerging from all this is no other than the Houston Rockets. Below, we pinpoint three major reasons why this is the case.
Addressing a Major Problem
Following another disappointing end to the season, the Rockets were in a tight spot. They basically tried to do the same thing in two consecutive seasons, which both ultimately resulted in failure. Rumors of the front office wanting to completely overhaul the team were already rumbling, and talk of an irreparable relationship between Paul and Harden was also already being reported. All these problems were addressed when they somehow landed Russell Westbrook.
Granted, the Rockets need to face a whole set of issues now that they have two of the most ball-dominant players in the game today sharing the same backcourt. Fit is perhaps the biggest concern here, but with how desperate Houston was to shake up their squad, this move is definitely something the front office can be proud of. A superstar of Westbrook’s caliber likely won’t be available in the market anytime soon, and we will need to give the Rockets a ton of credit for pouncing on the opportunity, and in the process, ensuring that their team remains relevant in the immediate future.
Re-entering the Championship Contender Conversation
Secondly, this audacious trade deal has propelled the Rockets from a playoff team to an outright contender for the title in the coming season. Again, head coach Mike D’Antoni will need to figure out the best ways to play these two guys together, but nevertheless, having both Westbrook and Harden on your squad should instantly give you the right to re-enter the championship contender conversation, right?
The Paul-Harden combination obviously did not work as planned, and sooner or later, the Rockets would have to pull the plug on that failed experiment. Chris Paul is a future Hall of Famer and will remain to be one of the best point guards to have played the game, but at 34, it would be very hard to argue against the fact that a 30-year-old Russell Westbrook in his prime is an absolute upgrade for the Rockets.
Keeping James Happy
What Westbrook can do much better than Paul could have ever done is to take “some” of the offensive load off of Harden’s shoulders. Westbrook is definitely a more potent scorer than Paul, so Harden can perhaps take a bit of a step back in terms of the heavy workload he is required to take on day-in and day-out. Coach D’Antoni will likely be able to cut down Harden’s minutes significantly (he averaged 36.8 minutes per contest last season), and thereby, allowing him to stay fresh when it matters most — the playoffs.
It was also reported that right after the Paul George trade went down, Harden and Westbrook were already speaking with each other about a potential reunion. This deal was something both guys wanted, and for the Rockets, it was important for them to give their cornerstone superstar what he wanted. As the saying goes, happy star, happy life — or something like that.
At the end of the day, it’s not going to be easy for the Rockets to figure out the best way to incorporate Westbrook in their system. This is definitely going to be the biggest challenge they will need to face, but surely, this is a good problem to have. The fact of the matter is that Houston were able to successfully acquire the best available superstar in the market (at this point, at least), and they are now looking at a much more promising future compared to how bleak the situation was just a few days ago.