Two-thirds of the dynasty which ended before it ever really started in Oklahoma City, are back together.
The OKC Thunder and Houston Rockets agreed to a trade Thursday evening that sent Russell Westbrook to Houston in exchange for Chris Paul, two draft picks and two draft pick swaps. It is a blockbuster trade when it comes to name power, and certainty adds even more interest to the upcoming NBA season, but I’m not sold on this trade, and especially down on it from the Houston side of things.
Getting rid of CP3’s contract is a blessing in of itself, and getting the value of Russell Westbrook is evermore impressive, however Westbrook and Harden pairing will go as smoothly as fitting a round peg into a square hole; it’s not going to work.
The last time Harden and Westbrook were seen as teammates, both were young guards trying to make a name for themselves. Since then, Harden has left his 6th man days behind him and turned into the single most lethal offensive force in the NBA, winning scoring titles and a MVP. He has made the Houston Rockets a contender each season and became the face of the franchise with no reason to look back. As for Russell Westbrook, he has also grown and developed into a superstar. Westbrook became the first player, since Oscar Robertson, to average a triple double for an NBA season, and has done it for the past 3 seasons, all while picking up his own MVP honors in the process. Just off of straight ego and alpha mentalities, this paring already seems difficult, and we haven’t even discussed their play styles.
Westbrook has been a ball dominate guard his entire career and took it to another level once Harden and Durant left OKC. Since their departure, he has averaged a triple double for the past three seasons, and been inefficient on an absurd amount of shots while doing so. I promise this isn’t Westbrook slander, I actually enjoy watching his game, however we have seen Westbrook as the lone star, and Westbrook as a co-star. Westbrook has shined when he is the lone guy out there, going 100MPH, being ball dominate. Now he will find himself sharing the ball with another ball dominate guard in James Harden who has also been at his best when he just isolates and drives and kicks to shooters. Slide Westbrook off the ball and into a corner waiting on a catch and shoot opportunity is a disaster waiting to happen. For one Westbrook is an unreliable shot maker from deep, and has gotten worse in recent seasons. And two, Westbrook is just as ball dominate as Harden, if not more so.
As for Harden, we have seen him alongside another ball dominate guard, and he just got him traded. Chris Paul and Harden actually worked enough of the time to be a true threat to the Warriors in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, but their run was short lived. There had been reports of the two having rifts on and off the court, and although they were disputed, this trade kind of makes me believe there was fire under all that smoke. I do think Harden and Westbrook will coexist better off the court as they are legitimate friends, but much like Westbrook, Harden thrives when he is the lone star on the court surrounded by shooters and role players.
In a Mike D’Antoni system all about pace and space, there is no room for two ball dominate guards, one of which can’t knock down three point shots efficiently. This is not going to work long term and especially in the playoffs where both of these players have had their demons in past years. But one thing is certain with this duo, the storylines after tight games, and the press conference outfits of both players will grab headlines all season long. We also might see both average 30 point double doubles, but if the goal is winning a championship, which is the Rockets goal, I don’t think the Rockets have gotten any closer to success.