Report: James Harden Accountability, P.J. Tucker Contract Among Rockets' Gripes

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorNovember 12, 2020

Houston Rockets' James Harden, left and Russell Westbrook walks together during the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets' tumultuous offseason has seen the departures of president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D'Antoni, but word has now emerged from Kelly Iko, Sam Amick and Shams Charania of The Athletic that there were issues teamwide behind the scenes during the 2019-20 campaign.

Of note, reported issues with accountability as well as various concerns from shooting guard Eric Gordon, forward/center P.J. Tucker, guard Austin Rivers became prevalent at times during the season.

On the accountability front, the Athletic relayed a January player meeting in which Westbrook told his teammates what they each needed to do better going forward during a losing streak following a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The talk apparently did not sit well with star guard James Harden.

"A large chunk of the angst, however, stems from a lack of accountability, sources said. During the January locker room meeting following a home loss to Portland, Westbrook, who was leading the meeting, went around the room indicating what was wrong and what each player needed to do to fix the losing streak, starting with himself, sources said. When it came to Harden, however, he wasn’t as receptive to criticism as other teammates, sources said."

The Athletic also reported that "former teammates have described the culture in Houston as problematic, sources said, highlighting a situation that caters far too much to its stars."

As for Gordon and Rivers, both men seemed displeased with their roles on the team. Per sources to The Athletic, Gordon "was not pleased with how his role and importance had diminished since the 2016-17 season."

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In regards to Rivers, the Athletic reported the following:

"At times, Rivers was unhappy with his inconsistent playing time and utilization, sources said. In one instance, Rivers went on an expletive-laden tirade following a game where D’Antoni called for him to be substituted, only to change his mind and insert new signing DeMarre Carroll. In another instance, Rivers was barked at by Harden after the former MVP missed a free throw and blamed Rivers—who was standing up by the bench—for distracting him."

As for Tucker, the small-ball big man "has been irate over his contract situation all season long" and believes he deserves a raise after seeing other three-and-D players strike rich around the league. He also reportedly "felt insulted" that Houston delayed extension talks and didn't guarantee his 2020-21 salary until the Feb. 6, 2020 trade deadline passed.

The Rockets had high hopes entering the 2019-20 season after acquiring Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder, but finished just fourth in the Western Conference regular-season standings. They barely snuck by those same Thunder in the first round of the NBA playoffs before losing in five games to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

It appears that everything is falling apart at the seams now, with the Athletic reporting that Westbrook wants a trade. Former NBA big man and ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins also reported that Harden hasn't been returning calls from Rockets brass of late because he's unhappy that he has not been included in the decision-making process.

In addition, Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported that Westbrook and Harden were concerned about the Rockets' future direction following the front office and coaching turnover.

Ultimately, we'll soon find out how the Rockets let this offseason play out, as the regular season is slated to begin on Dec. 22 with the draft on Nov. 18 and free agency set to start two days afterward.