So when the Houston Rockets went ahead and traded away Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook in hopes of giving the Rockets a new look with an injection of athleticism to their back-court I was optimistic about the Houston Rockets’s chances going into this season but I would have been astonished if James Harden and Russell Westbrook became 2020 NBA Champions. Why you might ask? Well I know the 2012 Oklahomacity Thunder were known as the Baby Thunder with Kevin Durant leading the way with James Harden as the 6th man off the bench and a Russell Westbrook in the midst of his all-star ascension. If Russell Westbrook and James Harden could not win with Kevin Durant on their roster why should I expect them to get it done without him in a Western Conference with two powerhouses in Los Angeles. The Houston Rockets have tried it all around James Harden, he has had the luxury of playing alongside all-stars in Dwight Howard,Chris Paul,and now Russell Westbrook in Houston but not has been able to deliver a championship. We keep hearing the same hoopla about James Harden, he is arguably the best regular season offensive player in NBA history but forgets he is a superstar in the playoffs.
I hear rumors the Houston Rockets might look to break Russell Westbrook and James Harden if they suffer a loss in the second round to the Los Angeles Lakers but I don’t think that is the solution. I still recall James Harden making his debut for the Houston Rockets, it was reminiscent to Tracy McGrady leaving the Toronto Raptors early on in his career in search of becoming the face of another franchise which is exactly what James Harden has done making the transition from a 6th man to a superstar on the Houston Rockets. Houston has embraced James Harden and I don’t think they will look to move him, I could see him leaving for the last year of his deal which is a player option but I’d bank on him remaining in Houston at least one more season before the Houston Rockets consider moving him. As for Russell Westbrook his contract is movable as I am sure any franchise starved for star power will be interested but I think Daryl Morey should take a look at Sam Cassell or Jeff Van Gundy to coach Westbrook and Harden over the next 2-3 seasons and see where it takes you.
Just to touch on Sam Cassell briefly Los Angeles Clippers’s head coach Doc Rivers has mentioned how Sam Cassell should be coaching and I agree. Growing up in the late 1990’s I was not old enough to watch him become a champion on the Hakeem Olajuwon led Houston Rockets but I did watch him on the Milwaukee Bucks alongside Ray Allen and also in Minnesota alongside Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell and he was a joy to watch with how fundamentally sound he was. Sam Cassell played at his pace, he was phenomenal at backing opposing defenders down in the post and shooting right and left elbow turn around jumpers. I believe Sam Cassell would be able to get Russell Westbrook to slow down and be more efficient in a half-court set. Sam was also pretty good playing off the ball and that is something both James Harden and Russell Westbrook must integrate into their games. For years I have been saying James Harden does not post up and use his size against smaller defenders, he has played a face-up games practically his whole career and that is something that must change. When he gives the ball up he does not remain involved off the ball enough and that is where the problem lies for the Houston Rockets.
Jeff Van Gundy for those of you who are unaware was highly known for being a defense-first coach and coached the 8th seeded 1998-1999 New York Knicks to the NBA Finals behind a core of Latrell Sprewell,Allan Houston,and Marcus Camby. I’m not sure if Jeff Van Gundy will impact the play-style of Russell Westbrook and James Harden but he could get them to sacrifice their gaudy stats and using more of their energy to pressure guards on the perimeter. Russell Westbrook and James Harden must make adjustments plain and simple, they’ve proven they can be MVP of the league and win scoring titles now it’s time to prove they can co-exist and look to help the Houston Rockets in any way possible. Mike D’Antoni was never the right coach to lead Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Mike was able to get as far as he did with Chris Paul 2018 because Chris Paul is one of the top floor generals in NBA history and knows how to quarterback an entire offense, so in a way his job wasn’t as hard as it has been with Russell Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook is not Chris Paul, there has not been a coach that has been able to get through to Russell Westbrook and that has been his biggest problem in his NBA career. I could see Chris Paul being a head coach in the future, I’ll probably see Michael Jordan return at the age of 60 before I see Russell Westbrook on the sidelines. Mike D’Antoni had success in Phoenix with Steve Nash because Nash was a lot like Paul and a pure point-guard he does not have the same luxury he had with Nash and Paul in Westbrook. The Houston Rockets need an identity and that is what they are lacking at the moment, Mike D’Antoni is just putting the ball in Harden or Westbrook’s hands and that is quite predictable. The only way Westbrook and Harden will become NBA Champions is if they put their egos to the side and buy into what a coach like Jeff Van Gundy or Sam Cassell could do to put them over the top.
To conclude the Houston Rockets don’t need to blow it up at least not for another season. Bring in a coach who can break down Russell Westbrook and James Harden’s games and figure out a way to maximize their potential on the basketball court. James Harden and Russell Westbrook are both supreme athletes and more than qualified for their respective positions from a size standpoint to punish opposing defenses with dribble penetration so long they are running an organized offense and not just pounding the air out of the ball from the top of the key. Not that Westbrook and Harden will ever play off the ball at a level of a Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson but can we not see the difference between a Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson back-court as opposed to a Russell Westbrook and James Harden back-court? Steph and Klay scramble in half-court sets and keep opposing defenses on their heels at all times maneuvering through multiple screens and beating opposing defenders to the 3 point line for high percentage jumpers. Steve Kerr saw the potential in the Warriors’s back-court and transformed the Warriors into an elite offense and defense, the same needs to be done with the Houston Rockets. They must find that coach that can take Russell Westbrook and James Harden to another level, till next time.