James Harden and Russell Westbrook are teammates once again - and with it, the upcoming NBA season becomes that little bit more interesting.
Last weekend saw the bombshell tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George join the LA Clippers. They’ll share a stadium with LA Lakers duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Harden and Westbrook are the latest superstar tandem to team up, but their fit together is by far the most questionable of the lot.
Between them, they have won two of the last three MVPs. Harden has been runner-up twice.
Both won the award by doing the same thing differently - an almost unprecedented, ball-dominant style which ultimately meant the success or failure of their teams hinged on their individual performance.
In Houston, it is unclear who will be the ‘number one’ guy. As the incumbent, Harden should logically hold that title, but Westbrook is a below-average player off the ball, and a poor shooter. If you can’t knock down open shots in Houston, you won’t get minutes.
Equally, the Rockets are hardly going to bench a guy who has averaged a triple-double for the last three seasons. For all his flaws (and there are many), Russell Westbrook is still Russell Westbrook, a player who can impact a game through sheer force alone.
This underscores who had the leverage in the deal. Both teams tried to send their stars to preferred destinations. But OKC had the leverage to let Russ pick. He chose Houston, even though Miami could arguably offer a better package. https://t.co/PKa785frO2— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 12, 2019
With this trade, Houston find themselves at a crossroads.
Pairing Harden with Chris Paul ultimately didn’t work. Paul and Harden’s relationship became toxic (despite Rockets GM Daryl Morey insisting it hadn’t just weeks earlier), while Westbrook has been known to alienate teammates at times as well.
Houston has no choice but to persist though - the trade for Westbrook was a massive gamble considering the amount of picks they gave up and the money remaining on his contract.
If it fails, it will be years before they have the draft assets and salary cap flexibility to rebuild.
One of the interesting things that will be tested this season is the value of talent vs continuity. Lot of teams have their rosters shuffled, will it take them a year to gel, and if so does that give the upper hand to teams that stayed relatively stable? Fun season ahead— Daman Rangoola (@damanr) July 12, 2019
The Rockets have between now and October to figure out how they are going to make this work.
On face value, the fit between Westbrook and Harden isn’t great. One or both players will have to make sacrifices to their game. Both cannot average the gaudy statistics they have over the past three seasons. There is simply not enough of the ball to go around.
The pressure is on Westbrook to adapt his game so he can fit alongside Harden. Houston have outperformed Westbrook’s OKC teams consistently over the last three seasons.
Chris Paul ultimately chafed at being asked to stand in the corner and shoot while Harden dominated the ball. Westbook is a similarly ball-dominant player compared to Harden and Paul, but by far the worst shooter of the three.
Unless the Rockets can figure out how to make this work, the biggest move they’ve made in years will be all for nothing.
At any rate, they can be assured of this much - if they aren’t successful, they’ll at least be relevant. In today’s NBA, there is a lot to be said for that.