Russell Westbrook's short tenure with the Houston Rockets may be coming to an end. The nine-time All-Star wants out of Houston, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, leaving the Rockets in a difficult position with just over a month until games begin for the 2020-21 season.
Reports surfaced on Wednesday indicating that Westbrook and All-Star teammate James Harden had "expressed concern" about the Rockets' direction, and now it has apparently led to a trade request from Westbrook. Harden is still committed to the Rockets despite Westbrook's intent to leave, according to The Athletic. From Charania:
"Westbrook has informed team officials that he has been uneasy about the team's accountability and culture, and wants to join a team where he can have a role similar to his prior, floor-general role in Oklahoma City."
The Rockets have undergone significant changes since they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the playoffs two months ago. Former coach Mike D'Antoni elected not to pursue a new contract with the team and longtime general manager Daryl Morey resigned, later joining the Philadelphia 76ers' front office. Morey was replaced with Rafael Stone, and Stephen Silas was awarded the Houston head coaching job.
Harden preferred two other coaching candidates according to Marc Stein of The New York Times: Tyronn Lue -- who was promoted to head coach by the Clippers after Doc Rivers' departure -- and John Lucas, who was in contention for the Rockets' head coach position but is now an assistant on Silas' staff. According to ESPN, both Westbrook and Harden were consulted and agreed to Silas' hiring.
The 2016-17 NBA MVP, Westbrook was traded to the Rockets from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul before last season, and averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 57 games. While battling through a quad injury and recovering from COVID-19, Westbrook put up 17.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists in eight playoff games.
There is, of course, no guarantee that Westbrook's request will be granted, but history tells us that an unhappy player of his caliber eventually gets the change of scenery he desires. Moving Westbrook is not without challenges despite his consistent production and All-Star status. He'll be 32 this season and is owed $131.5 million over the next three years with a $46.7 million player option in 2022-23.
Given the uncertain financial future of the NBA, at this point, it's unclear whether Westbrook is considered an asset who would net a significant return, or if his contract is so poisonous that the Rockets would have to throw in additional assets to get a team to take him on. We'll likely hear more about the trade market and Westbrook's value over the next few weeks, with the NBA Draft set for next Wednesday and free agency opening next Friday.
If Westbrook is traded, there will be significant questions about the Rockets' ceiling if Harden is unable to get considerable help in the deal. Last summer, Houston faced a similar dilemma when the relationship between Harden and Paul deteriorated, and they were able to swing a deal for Westbrook, which cost them multiple first-round picks. This time around, however, there may not be a star on a similarly enormous contract on a team willing to part with him, especially given Houston's lack of promising young talent.