James Harden's influence over the Houston Rockets has been enormous in recent years. The team has consistently furnished him with shooting and defense in an effort to buoy his isolation scoring. They traded Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, at least in part, because of his strained relationship with the former and close friendship with the latter. But it's a new day in Houston. The man who acquired Harden, Daryl Morey, now runs the Philadelphia 76ers, and new general manager Rafael Stone seems to have defied his star's wishes in hiring a replacement for Mike D'Antoni as the team's coach.
According to Marc Stein of The New York Times, Harden wanted either Ty Lue or John Lucas II to become Houston's new head coach. Lue wound up remaining with the Los Angeles Clippers as their new head coach, but Lucas, a player development coach in Houston and a finalist for the job, ultimately lost out to former Dallas Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas. Owner Tilman Fertitta reportedly had strong interest in Jeff Van Gundy, whom Harden and Russell Westbrook opposed.
The Rockets are close to bringing Lucas back as an assistant, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, but it is unclear what his role would be on Silas' staff. He was previously a player development coach under D'Antoni, but given his candidacy in the head-coaching search, it is entirely possible that he gains a more prominent role on the bench.
What does this mean? In an immediate sense, it's unclear. The Rockets have been adamant: they don't plan to trade Harden this offseason. In fairness, that was their stance on Paul last offseason. Stadium's Shams Charania reported Tuesday that Morey would be interested in reuniting with Harden in Philadelphia. He would not be the only suitor if Houston decided to pull the trigger. A deal is likelier at the trade deadline or in the 2021 offseason for a variety of reasons, if one comes at all, but the Rockets ignoring Harden's preference is meaningful.
It doesn't have to mean that he is headed for the trade block, though. One could argue that Houston's deference to Harden has become detrimental. His limited off-ball movement killed the Rockets in the playoffs against the Lakers, and his defensive effort has never been consistent. Perhaps the hire is meant to be a kick in the pants for Harden.
There's no way of knowing at this point, but Houston's decision, in itself, is incredibly meaningful. Stars of Harden's caliber tend to get their way. He didn't this time, and if things don't go well for Silas, the whispers about Harden's future are only going to get louder.