Houston Rockets news: Situation said to be toxic, even if James Harden returns

By Vincent Frank
Oct 23, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta (left) and general manager Daryl Morey (right) talk during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the Houston Rockets news on the heels of the 2020-21 NBA season starting has included disgruntled star James Harden and his trade demand. After all, a three-time reigning NBA scoring champion and future Hall of Famer wanting out of dodge qualifies as news.

With that said, there’s a whole lot more happening behind the scenes in Houston following another early playoff exit as well as the departures of head coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey. We now have more information on this, and it’s not great news.

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Houston Rockets news: Situation said to be toxic, even if James Harden returns

“Even if Harden is there, I think Houston is going to be bad. The whole situation is toxic,” one Western Conference executive said, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

That’s most definitely not a great sign. Remember, there were rumors earlier in the offseason that both Harden and recently-traded Russell Westbrook wanted out because they questioned the direction of the Rockets’ franchise under owner Tilman Fertitta. Bringing in Rafael Stone as general manager and young head coach Stephan Silas apparently has not changed the dynamics behind the scenes.

There were others concerned about the Rockets’ organization, too. This included recent departures in that of Robert Covington and Austin Rivers. So what’s happening here?

Houston Rockets news: Is Tilman Fertitta the problem?

Houston Rockets news: Tilman Fertitta, James Harden
Feb 2, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta walks on the court during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In his first three years as the Rockets’ owner, this restaurant magnate has yet to pay into the NBA’s luxury tax. Houston’s decision to trade a stud three-and-D wing in that of the above-mentioned Covington in a cost-cutting move earlier this offseason adds even more to speculation that Fertitta isn’t willing to spend with the big boys.

“Owner Tilman Fertitta is hellbent on reducing payroll and getting the Rockets out of the luxury tax business for the foreseeable future,” David Aldridge of The Athletic reported.

There’s a lot of issues here. First off, the restaurant industry has been hit especially hard when it comes to the economic downturn created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, Forbes noted that Fertitta had just $300 million in cash on hand when he purchased the Rockets back in October of 2017. In fact, he used an unusual structure to secure said purchase. This should have given the NBA’s Board of Governors some pause when approving said deal.

Related: James Harden trade scenarios

Houston Rockets news: James Harden drama

Houston Rockets news: James Harden
Dec 28, 2019; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles the ball during the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, there’s a major backdrop to all of this. Led by Fertitta, the Rockets’ front office was not happy about Harden’s trade demand becoming public record earlier in the offseason. The owner apparently took it personally.

Since then, Harden missed the start of training camp while partying in Georgia and Las Vegas in violation of the NBA COVID-19 protocols. He just recently reported, missing the team’s preseason opener this past Friday in the process.

While Harden has not made any statement publicly demanding a trade, it’s obvious his handlers are doing everything possible to get the former NBA MVP out of town. Given the Rockets’ high asking price in a potential trade, it seems like he’s going to be stuck with the team over the short term.

This speaks to the “toxic” environment that unnamed executive noted. If there’s issues atop the Rockets hierarchy, how do they expect said issues not to trickle down to the roster and the court?

It’s an unenviable position for first-year head coach Stephan Silas to be in. It could also very well lead to yet another disappointing season for Houston.

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