What’s subsequent for James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets? Three massive questions on Houston’s future

The Rockets’ 2019-20 marketing campaign ended Saturday night time not with a barrage of Three-pointers however with LeBron James and the Lakers smiling and laughing their approach by way of the second half of a straightforward Recreation 5 win.

MORE: Russell Westbrook exchanges phrases with Rajon Rondo’s brother

Los Angeles jumped out entrance with a 13-2 run within the first three minutes of the competition, led by as many as 22 factors within the first quarter and shortly extinguished Houston’s hopes of extending the second-round sequence. The Lakers in the end received by a last rating of 119-96, nevertheless it by no means even felt that shut. As ESPN’s Tim Legler instructed Scott Van Pelt, this one resembled a summer time league sport greater than a do-or-die state of affairs.

One other disappointing elimination pushes the Rockets into what will probably be a tough offseason. They have to confront a couple of key questions on their future, and there are no nice solutions.

Is Mike D’Antoni out as head coach?

Over 4 years in Houston, D’Antoni has compiled a file of 217-101 in regular-season video games and revolutionized how NBA groups method offense, most notably taking isolation and small ball to absolutely the excessive. One might argue he was a Chris Paul hamstring harm away from not less than a visit to the NBA Finals in 2018, however there isn’t any consolation in taking part in the “what if” sport. The very fact is the Rockets, clearly in win-now mode, have not captured a championship.

The 69-year-old failed to succeed in an settlement with the Rockets previous to the beginning of the season, so he’s set to develop into a free agent. D’Antoni desires to maintain teaching, and he ought to have a number of choices. The Pacers are anticipated to be among the many suitors for D’Antoni if Houston does not provide him a brand new deal, in accordance with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Nevertheless, either side parting methods is much from automated. D’Antoni wish to keep, and he is obtained the total assist of James Harden. 

Mike D’Antoni on his future: “We have got an awesome group, nice metropolis, nice followers. Every part’s good right here. We’ll see what occurs however I could not ask for a greater state of affairs. Every part’s good on this facet, for positive.”

— Sean Highkin (@highkin) September 13, 2020

Does James Harden need Mike D’Antoni to return to the Rockets? “After all. After all. Mike has performed some unbelievable stuff right here.”

— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) September 13, 2020

Maybe conversations between D’Antoni, normal supervisor Daryl Morey and proprietor Tilman Fertitta will result in some kind of decision, although there are already rumblings the Rockets will think about ESPN analyst and former Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy as a high substitute candidate.

Whether or not it is D’Antoni or a recent face on the sideline subsequent season, this group’s type might not change a lot as a result of making main upgrades is a seemingly unimaginable job.

How can the Rockets construct round Russell Westbrook and James Harden?

Morey has been as artistic as any GM in establishing a contender, and the Rockets went full throttle in the course of the Warriors’ dynasty when different groups have been content material to let Golden State dominate. It is comprehensible why Harden could be assured within the entrance workplace’s potential to tweak the roster round him and Russell Westbrook.

“I really feel like we’re a chunk away,” Harden stated after Recreation 5. “However you have obtained to maintain making an attempt to determine it out, maintain making an attempt to develop and put the best items round me and Russ to get to the place we wish to go.”

Straightforward sufficient, proper? Properly, Houston is up in opposition to the wage cap, and it has largely averted the posh tax below Morey. Making an attempt so as to add a difference-maker with these salaries on the books goes to take all of Morey’s accounting magic.

Season
James Harden
Russell Westbrook
Eric Gordon
2020-21
$41.3M
$41.4M
$16.9M
2021-22
$44.3M
$44.2M
$18.2M
2022-23
$47.4M*
$47.1M*
$19.6M

*Participant possibility

We’re speaking about paying $114 million in 2022-23 for 3 gamers who can have aged out of their primes. Oh, boy.

The Rockets additionally do not maintain a decide within the 2020 NBA Draft, they usually owe future first-round picks (2024 and 2026) to the Thunder as a part of the Westbrook commerce along with future decide swaps (2021 and 2025). They’ll transfer both their 2021 or 2022 first-round decide, however not each.

On high of that — sure, there’s extra — Houston cannot entice different groups with promising prospects as a result of, uh, it does not have any. Morey might throw Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker into commerce talks, nevertheless it does not make a lot sense to incorporate them in any deal if the Rockets will proceed with its small-ball strategies.

So . . .

What’s the way forward for this franchise?

Successful a title stays the objective, however as one more playoff run confirmed, the Rockets are not constructed to roll by way of a number of rounds within the rugged Western Convention. It feels as if Houston is locked into being a No. Three-6 seed that provides an elite opponent a slight problem however in the end leaves empty-handed.

If Morey and Fertitta attain that conclusion, then would they finally talk about altering course? Harden and Westbrook are each 31. Harden hasn’t appeared like an MVP in massive moments. Westbrook’s efficiency in opposition to the Lakers highlighted what occurs when he cannot overcome his taking pictures woes with athleticism and rage. That championship window is already closing.

Westbrook is sort of untradeable — virtually, as a result of, nicely, it is the NBA — however Harden nonetheless holds worth as the most effective offensive weapons within the league. As wild as it might sound, there might be Harden commerce rumors coming down the highway. A Harden deal is likely to be the one escape hatch for the entrance workplace. When you’re at all times “a chunk away,” then you definitely’re by no means really “a chunk away.”

Hey, we instructed you there are no nice solutions.

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