Rockets Rumors: Most Explosive Details on James Harden, Chris Paul's Friction

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2019

Houston Rockets guard James Harden, left, talks with teammate Chris Paul as they walk off the court during a timeout in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. The Rockets won 130-105. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

All is not well in Houston. 

In the wake of a second consecutive loss to the Golden State Warriors in the postseason, Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com reported, "There is friction between James Harden and Chris Paul, the franchise's two maximum-salary centerpieces." MacMahon added that general manager Daryl Morey "has aggressively shopped the Rockets under contract, including Paul and center Clint Capela, in the trade market."

One high-ranking team official told MacMahon: "There's too much damn turmoil. There's some hard feelings right now everywhere."

The root causes of tension between Harden and Paul are "differences in preferred playing styles and personality," team sources told MacMahon. Harden, for instance, thrives in isolation. But as Paul has aged, he prefers to run set plays, unable to athletically beat players one-on-one with as much consistency as in the past.

"Chris wants to coach James," a source said. "James looks at him like, 'You can't even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'"

The on-court tension reportedly got to the point that Paul "cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor" and "barked at [Mike] D'Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit."

Paul was also reportedly "frustrated by what he perceived as Harden's tendency to ignore unglamorous details that impact winning—such as moving when he gives up the ball to help spacing—and wasn't shy about expressing those concerns."

But another source noted that Paul sometimes takes voicing any issues or concerns too far.

"Chris has a personality where he just doesn't let anything go," the source told MacMahon. "He just keeps pestering and pestering and pestering and pestering. Sometimes James has had enough—and not just him. That's what makes [Paul] a winner and also what keeps him from being a big-time winner. He's got to temper that."

However, a source downplayed the issues between the pair.

"It's always a little contentious when you have two alpha dogs," the source told MacMahon. "Ask the Golden State Warriors if they've ever had problems between their stars.

The friction has perhaps contributed to the trade rumors that suggest anybody outside of Harden is on the block, though Morey has denied those rumors:

Harden obviously isn't going anywhere. The 29-year-old was once again dominant in 2018-19, averaging 36.1 points, 7.5 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game, shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three.

He's the most prolific scorer in the NBA and is one of two front-runners for MVP this year alongside Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

If a "him or me" situation ever develops in Houston between Harden and Paul, the Rockets will find a way to move on from Paul and his enormous contract. But given that Paul is due $79.8 million over the next two years (with a player option for $44.2 million in the 2021-22 campaign, which he'll assuredly exercise) and is already 34, it's hard to imagine the Rockets would get anywhere near equal value back in a trade.

Instead, the Rockets are going to have to find a way to make it work. It's unlikely Paul will be moved, and the team's best path to a title is that the two players work out their difference and the Rockets perhaps find a way to add a third star. Beyond that, the team would likely have to rebuild, a non-option during Harden's prime years.

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