James Harden remains optimistic despite yet another disappointing playoff run.
LeBron James and the Lakers thoroughly destroyed the Rockets’ spirits by winning four games in a row following Houston’s lone victory.
And yet, Harden took to the postgame podium after being eliminated and claimed that he and Russell Westbrook were a mere “piece away.”
But when you’ve already traded away most of your assets, as the Rockets have, it’s not easy to acquire that ‘one piece.’
Another year, another playoff series that Russell Westbrook tanked.
The enigmatic guard ended his pre-quarantine season on an epic run, but he just couldn’t match that pace in the playoffs. With Westbrook’s gargantuan contract, the Houston Rockets have dug themselves into a hole they can’t trade their way out of.
There is one team linked with Westbrook rumors. It’s the team that’s always linked to stars, yet never seems to acquire them: the hapless New York Knicks.
There’s certainly not “one-piece” the Knicks have that help James Harden any time soon.
Sure they could package something like Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington, and Mitchell Robinson, but are any of those players moving the needle?
Houston seems committed to small ball, so they’re not likely to seek any bigs who can’t stretch the floor. They’re most likely stuck with Westbrook, which means they’ll have to get creative.
In a perfect world, the Rockets would find a rim-protecting, floor-stretching unicorn on a cheap deal. But those players don’t really exist. And if they do, their teams are not letting go.
Case in point: Jonathan Isaac. Isaac is still on his cheap, rookie contract, and he’s become a defensive menace while honing his three-point shot. That’s why he’s rumored to be ‘untouchable.’
That doesn’t mean the Rockets can’t go after Old-Jonathan-Isaac in the form of one Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka could provide the strength and rim-protecting ability that Houston so desperately needs, without sacrificing much mobility or shooting. And the former teammate of James Harden will be an unrestricted free agent this year.
Morey would have to make the salary cap logistics work, but Ibaka shouldn’t command $20 million+ per year as he did for his last contract.
Speaking of the Magic, could Houston entice the point-guard-weak team into a trade involving Russell Westbrook and Nikola Vucevic? That would allow Isaac to take the reigns as the starting center while Aaron Gordon could move to his natural power forward position.
Would Indiana be willing to part with Myles Turner for Eric Gordon and Danuel House Jr.?
If they can’t land one of these marquee names, the Rockets will have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for talent, as they’ve done in the past. Don’t be shocked if uninspiring names like Gorgui Deng, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Chris Boucher hit the Houston rumor mill.
Either way, the Rockets must make a move if they want to salvage James Harden’s prime.