The sticking point? Houston's demands were simply too high, as Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported on Complex's Load Management podcast (19:50 mark):
"The Rockets engaged with several teams on draft week, free agency week, whatever you want to call it. They talked to Washington about John Wall, which I reported, they talked to Cleveland I'm told. ... Even their price for Russell Westbrook, when the conversation went to Washington—I'm told the Rockets wanted multiple other assets, whether it's draft compensation, young players. So when you set the price that high, even for Russell Westbrook, if it's not met, the Rockets are fine going into the season and playing it out."
Both Westbrook and James Harden reportedly want out of Houston, per Charania and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, but to this point the Rockets have held firm, keeping both players. While it's possible that either could still be dealt, it appears that the team will head into the start of the 2020-21 season with both on the roster.
Despite both players apparently feeling like things didn't work out last season, the team still went 44-28 last year and reached the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, where they were eliminated by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in five games.
Both players also posted big numbers:
- Harden: 34.3 points, 7.5 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game
- Westbrook: 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists per game
They may not be the most natural pairing, given each likes to be the primary ball-handler for his team, but it was clear that they could make it work. Granted, making it work and winning a championship are two entirely different things, and Houston does not appear to have title upside. Playoffs, yes, but a championship seems unlikely.
A lot of change has gone down in Houston since the season ended. Gone are former general manager Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D'Antoni, Robert Covington and Austin Rivers. In are new general manager Rafael Stone and head coach Stephen Silas, Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins. The formerly small-ball Rockets spent the offseason getting bigger. The team likely will feature a much different system in 2020-21.
As for teams asking about Westbrook, Cleveland would be a very curious fit. The Cavaliers already have a number of young guards in Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. who need playing time. It would be strange to inject the veteran Westbrook into the mix—unless one or more of those younger players were involved in the trade—and attempt to make a playoff push around Westbrook, Kevin Love and Andre Drummond.
The Cavaliers are much better off rebuilding around their youth than selling out for the No. 8 seed.