At least one of the Houston Rockets' two stars is planning to stick around for the time being.
Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Russell Westbrook is looking to leave, but Charania and The Athletic's Kelly Iko followed up to report James Harden is "committed" to the Rockets and "locked in" for the 2020-21 NBA season.
Many expected the Rockets to hit a fork in the road following their second-round playoff exit at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers. Acquiring Westbrook didn't raise Houston's postseason ceiling, and the organization has exhausted almost all of its resources to make improvements.
Just to recap for everyone: The Rockets traded 4 drafts, gave up their starting center and changed their entire style of play to acquire and accommodate Russell Westbrook. And now he’s leaked a trade request, diminishing what wasn’t exactly the best value in the first place.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon reported Wednesday that Harden and Westbrook "expressed concern about the direction of the franchise through direct conversations or discussions with their representatives and the Rockets' front office" following the departures of Mike D'Antoni and Daryl Morey.
"Although neither player has requested a trade at this point, that scenario has become a plausible eventual possibility," the report said.
In a way, Westbrook's trade request could be a blessing in disguise because it could force the hand of new general manager Rafael Stone.
The Oklahoma City Thunder went through the same thing last offseason.
Once Westbrook goes, it will be even more difficult to assemble a championship-caliber squad around Harden for the remainder of his contract. He's signed through 2022 and has a $47.4 million player option for 2022-23.
Just as OKC flipped George for draft capital to kick-start its rebuild, moving Harden elsewhere could do the same thing for Houston.
Of course, there's one big hurdle in that plan. Westbrook might want out, but finding a suitor won't be easy.
Factoring in his player option, the 31-year-old is owed $132.6 million over the next three seasons. The nine-time All-Star averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists, so he can still fill up the box score. His three-point shooting unfortunately remains the same as well. He shot 25.8 percent from the perimeter, falling below 30 percent for the third straight year.
While getting paid a max contract, Westbrook is no longer a player who can be a No. 1 or 2 option on a team with championship ambitions.
Maybe another team values Westbrook more than his performance would have you believe. If the Rockets can simply get one or two solid rotation players back, then they might have a stronger collective outfit than they had last season. However, bridging the gap on the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors—with a healthy Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson—might be out of reach.
Having Harden continue to buy in is unquestionably a good thing. It may not change where the organization is headed too much, though.