Article Written by Wilfredo Vanegas (@wevanegas)
Houston had some of the craziest couple of days in franchise history. From rumors of trade requests, players unhappy with their roles, their contracts, and just all around culture bashing. It seemed like the floodgates opened and every little toxic thing of the franchise leaked out. Was this a shock to the city of Houston and it’s fans? Maybe. Should they have expected it? Maybe.
But let’s talk about the domino that caused one of the wildest nights in franchise history. Russell Westbrook being unhappy in Houston. The rumor started in a friendly way, it wasn’t anything that Houston fans shouldn’t have known already; Russ and Harden were uncertain of the future of the Rockets. That much was obvious to everyone after all they did just lose their beloved GM, Daryl Morey, and trusted head coach, Mike D’Antoni, all in one off season. Uncertainty was to be expected. People were already preparing for the potential “blowing up” of this once contending core, at least after one more season. All good things come to an end, and with Russ and Harden aging and reaching the dwindling years of their prime it was a sad reality fans had to expect. But what they didn’t expect was the massive effect a report would have on the franchise as a whole.
Shams Charania, from The Athletic, reported that Russell Westbrook wanted out of Houston. With that news came a flurry of leaks coming from past players and current players about how toxic the Houston environment was. Reports were raining down that there was no accountability in the locker room especially when it came to the “stars” and how unhappy players like Austin Rivers, and Eric Gordon were with their roles. No one was safe from these rumors and leaked allegations, not even Houston’s beloved iron-man PJ Tucker, who was reported to be irate with his contract. Everything came out in a span of one night. There was chaos in Houston. There were fans calling for immediate trades and rebuilds. The once championship contending team was exposed for being an environment that was simply not built for winning. Through it all, there was one tiny glimmer of hope, another report from Shams, saying that Harden remains “locked in” to stay in Houston. It wasn’t much, but it was all fans had. One of the worst nights in franchise history followed by a little relief from the loyalty of one of its best athletes ever. But should we have seen this coming? Maybe.
The strongest allegation was Russ was reported saying that the culture in Houston was not a great one. Although it may hurt fans to hear, he may not have been totally off. Was there ever truly accountability in the locker room? For years the environment in Houston seemed to be a reflection of the big three who made all the decisions, Daryl, D’Antoni, and Harden. Yes, they are great at what they do, and they are geniuses in their own right, but the team always reflected their demeanor. At times the team seemed too nonchalant, and their seemed to be a lack of caring. There were even times fans had to admit it seemed like Daryl and Mike would do everything Harden wanted. No one could ever blame them for that of course, if you have one of the greatest players to ever do it you kind of have to do everything to keep him happy. But did their focus on pleasing the star create an environment that lacked accountability? That is a very real possibility.
No one knows what is true or not at this point. You have different things coming out of everywhere. ESPN and The Athletic seem to be having different stories. Even players are coming out and saying that things aren’t true. Russ was seen commenting on an ESPN post that said he and Harden didn’t want to play together was untrue. PJ on his Instagram put “cap” which means that there were some lies being told. Which rumors were false? Who knows. But the fact of the matter is this, where there is smoke there is always fire. And, no matter how Houston fans may feel about Russ, he did bring a needed reality check. Is our culture conducive to winning? Is our ownership willing to do whatever it takes? Are our start players committed to the cause? These are questions that need answers. Not just answers with nice words and clever media responses, no. Answers on the court.
Cynthia Occelli once said “To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
Is Houston being destroyed? Maybe. But could Russ have brought to our attention a reality we needed to hear in order for our franchise to grow? Maybe. The truth is no one knows and no one can know until Dec 22, when we see the Houston Rockets take up the court. There will continue to be reports leaked out, and their will continue to be rumblings of trade rumors. But, until something drastic happens it’s all just rumors.
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