NO GOING BACK

Here’s why the Rockets should play this differently

Disgruntled employees aren't good employees. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets open training camp for the 2020-21 season in exactly one week. So soon? Here's how things stand, and it's a wobbly picture:

James Harden, their best player, wants out of Houston so bad that he turned down the richest contract in NBA history to stay here. Harden reportedly doesn't think the Rockets are headed in the right direction and wants to play for a winner.

Russell Westbrook wants to be traded, too, but his eroding skills and crazy high salary, more than $40 million a year with three years left on his deal, make him a tough sell. A few years ago, Westbrook was MVP of the league, the first player to average a triple-double in half a century and first team All-NBA. Now he's (deep breath) a lousy shooter, not a team leader, a 3-point bricklayer, ball hog, bad in the clutch and slowing down. There are rumors that the Knicks, Clippers, Wizards and Hornets are possible trade partners for Westbrook. Yeah, we'll believe it when they announce it. And even then nothing's official until Woj tweets it.

The Rockets have a new head coach and new general manager, both of them first-timers in their new roles.

Rotation players are going, going, gone. Austin Rivers to the Knicks, Robert Covington to Portland and Jeff Green to the Nets. If Harden and Westbrook get traded, that would leave Eric Gordon, with his $16.8 million contract and declining talent, as the Rockets biggest star. Gordon reportedly was not happy with his playing time during the playoffs last season. Insiders say he's available in a trade, too.

Now Boogie Cousins enters the scene. Over/under on his next season-ending injury is Christmas Day.

To top it off, or bottom it out, there are reports that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta's feelings are hurt by Harden and Westbrook's desire to leave. You know, after all Fertitta has done for them.

Fertitta saying his feelings are hurt is like someone murdering his parents and then asking for sympathy because he's an orphan. He is the one who created this whole mess. It would be difficult to get equal value in return for Harden, one of the most unstoppable scorers in NBA history. After years of successfully courting superstars to Houston, big-name players are not interested, thank you.

As for Fertitta's hurt feelings, he's a billionaire – at least he plays one on TV (Billionaire Buyer on CNBC). Billionaires hire people to feel sad for them.

It's said that Fertitta really wanted to hire Jeff Van Gundy as the Rockets next coach, while Harden preferred Ty Lue. After Lue agreed to coach the Clippers, Fertitta settled on longtime assistant coach Stephen Silas as a peace offering to Harden.

That's not exactly rolling out the welcome wagon for Silas, who knows he wasn't his boss' first choice. That's like asking Cinnamon to the prom, and she later finds out that you asked Jade first. Besides, you're in high school, you're too young to be dating strippers.

We also hear that Harden is angry because Fertitta made a big-money donation to President Trump's re-election campaign. We don't know if Harden really feels that way, he's not a chatty fellow. But if it's true, it's understandable for Harden, and pretty stupid of Fertitta, especially doing it publicly. Most of Fertitta's players are African-American, not exactly Trump's base of support.

At the height of Andrew Dice Clay's popularity, a reporter asked Jay Leno why he didn't do misogynistic material like the Diceman. Leno said, women don't like that brand of humor, why would he want to alienate half of his potential audience? America is bitterly divided over politics in 2020. Donating to a polarizing candidate, on either side, doesn't make good business sense. In Houston, you risk alienating half of your ticket-buyers and 100 percent of your team's leading scorer.

According to ESPN, the Rockets are willing to play a waiting game with Harden, "prepared for it to get uncomfortable" – another horrible idea. While Harden is a baller who loves the game of basketball, and nobody doubts his desire, when someone wants to leave a team or a job or a relationship, it's best to let them go. Some players, not Harden, might go half-speed to avoid an injury that would wreck a trade opportunity. Or they become a distraction. Disgruntled employees aren't good employees. Right now, there doesn't seem to be many gruntled Rockets.

The NBA season starts in less than a month. The way it looks now, good seats will be available at Toyota Center – and not because of social distancing.

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