Here's why the Rockets are now in panic mode
Late Monday night word broke that the Rockets had traded Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for former Rocket Trevor Ariza and a pair of first round picks.
Translation: the Houston Rockets are in panic mode.
Things have gone very south on Polk Street ever since Stephen Silas was announced as the Rockets new head coach three weeks ago. That interesting, yet innocuous move would ultimately turn out to be a fuse connected to a cache of explosives seemingly nestled right underneath the entire franchise.
Despite the simultaneous GM and coach turnover this off-season, Rockets fans were still able to find solace in the fact that they still, at the very least, had James Harden. At least until late Sunday night.
ESPN Sources with @RamonaShelburne and @ZachLowe_NBA: As Houston's James Harden considers his future with franchise, one possible trade destination is rising to top of his list: Brooklyn. The idea of reuniting with Kevin Durant and joining Kyrie Irving is resonating with Harden.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 15, 2020
When Russell Westbrook made it known he wanted out last week, I didn't bat an eye. Outside of a short stretch in the regular season of vintage Brodie, nothing I witnessed last season suggested that Westbrook was some sort of missing piece that would be putting Houston over the top. An aging star with a mammoth contract, one could only hope that the Rockets would be able to move on from said failed experiment.
Harden wanting out, though, is an entirely different story.
Say what you want about his play style or aesthetic. He is still one of the top five players in the league. Houston is lucky to have him as an asset, and they should be doing everything they can to repair the situation.
If Harden's cryptic IG story is any indication of his leaning, then it looks like the Rockets chances of salvaging the confidence of the best player they've had since one Hakeem Olajuwon are all but gone:
Is Harden saying cap or no cap on the recent rumors? 🧐
You be the judge...
(via jharden13 | IG) pic.twitter.com/gsX0f9lapK
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) November 17, 2020
If the message is "no cap," then it basically means "Yes, what you've heard is true."
Here's another less cryptic bit of evidence that Harden might want out:
We know James Harden. wants out. I've confirmed @wojespn report that #Rockets offered a 2 yr 103 million extension and Harden said no. I'm told by NBA sources with knowledge of HOU's thinking, if traded, they want a Star and pieces in return from #Nets
— Randy McIlvoy (@KPRC2RandyMc) November 17, 2020
Turning down $50 million per year is pretty clear statement. Now the Rockets can say that they're not listening to trade offers for Harden as much as they want, but the Covington trade signifies one of two things: they're either trying to use the assets they've received to make a move to appease Harden, or they're all but gearing up to make the numbers work for what is looking more and more like an inevitable separation between the two parties.
If there's any silver lining to be gleaned from the possible departure of one of the greatest players to ever wear a Rockets uniform, it's that the divorce would allow first year head coach Silas to install a scheme unhindered by the demands of one player with disproportionate leverage. A team with James Harden becomes a scheme designed around James Harden. That scheme typically boils down to a deluge of visually unappealing isolation plays with Harden dribbling the air out of the ball. With Harden potentially gone, Silas will be able to develop a more complete and creative scheme.
Simply put: if Harden's gone, we're going to find out real quick just how good of a coach Stephen Silas is.