According to Houston Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta, the team does not expect James Harden or Russell Westbrook to be traded this offseason. General manager Daryl Morey is out, as is coach Mike D'Antoni, but, during his weekly appearance on CNBC's "Power Lunch," Fertitta said that Houston's outlook hasn't changed.
"You have James Harden and Russell Westbrook and you have almost 90 percent of your salaries tied up in them and Eric Gordon," Fertitta told CNBC, via the Houston Chronicle. "But anytime you have players like Eric, P.J. (Tucker), James and Russell, there's no reason to blow up your roster."
The counterargument is that the Rockets have an expensive and aging roster, but aren't genuine championship contenders. They don't have many avenues for improvement, since they have traded away so many first-round picks and have so few young players. One reason to blow it up is that Harden's trade value might never be higher.
Fertitta, however, said that he doesn't see it that way.
"This is still our window, the next couple years," he said. "James and Russell are in their early 30s. We're not blowing up anything. We plan on contending. I always said you want to set yourself up to be one of the top four teams in your conference each year and then it takes a little luck to win. You look at every year, it always takes a little luck.
"So, we're going to set ourselves up to make the moves, to be one of the top teams. We're going to do whatever we have to do to win. I can promise that to my fans and compete for the NBA championship this year."
If fairness to the Rockets, at times they did look like fringe contenders. They played elite defense in the bubble, and, after they went centerless, Westbrook was playing the most efficient basketball of his career -- until he got COVID-19 and injured his quad, that is. Westbrook was clearly not healthy in their second-round series against the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers, and the loss of Danuel House hurt them, too.
But this was not the first time Houston has fallen apart in the playoffs, and it was not the first time that Westbrook's poor shooting and turnover rate became significant problems under postseason pressure. While the Rockets were clearly not their best selves against the Lakers, they likely need more than just a bit of luck if they're going to compete for the title in the short term. The front office, now led by Rafael Stone, might need to add talent, diversify its attack and bolster its bench this offseason, none of which will be easy because of its limited financial flexibility.
Fertitta's public comments do not necessarily mean that Harden and Westbrook will be on the roster at the start of the 2021 playoffs. If he were thinking about a pivot, it would not be wise to say so on television. And, crucially, his opinion on the caliber of the roster is not the only one that matters. Harden is 31 years old, and he has spent the last eight seasons trying to win a title in Houston with a variety of coaches and co-stars. Morey was the one constant, and it's unclear how many more changes Harden will be willing to endure with the Rockets before he decides that he would like a fresh start.