The Houston Rockets’ season may have ended with a Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors in their second-round playoff series, but accounts of tension between James Harden and Chris Paul had only begun.
With the latest report, claiming that the high-profile teammates’ relationship was “unsalvageable,” causing ripples Tuesday, both Paul and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey took it upon themselves to deny that there was any rift between Houston’s star players.
Morey went so far as to ask the Houston Chronicle to “convey my disdain” in refuting a report that Paul had demanded a trade, saying, “It’s so annoying at this point.”
The alleged trade demand and the eye-opening description of the relationship between Harden and Paul were both featured in a report by Yahoo Sports, one that included a source telling the website, “There’s no respect at all, on either side.”
“They need to get away from one another,” the source said. “Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”
In reply to an Instagram post highlighting the “unsalvageable” line, Paul wrote, “D—! That’s news to me.”
According to Yahoo Sports, per a source, Harden and Paul “went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season.” The source also claimed that Harden “hasn’t returned Paul’s repeated attempts at communicating this off-season.”
Morey told the Chronicle that, as an example of communication and a positive relationship between the two players, they joined him for an off-season FaceTime discussion of “50 free agents” the Rockets might consider. The general manager said he hoped that would provide “a sense of how tightly they are tied together.”
However, the Yahoo Sports story sparked only the latest round of negative headlines involving the Rockets’ pair of ballhandling playmakers.
Shortly after Houston’s playoff elimination, The Athletic reported that “tense moments” between Harden and Paul “throughout Game 6” against Golden State culminated “in a verbal back-and-forth postgame that went into the locker room.”
That story’s claim that Paul and other Rockets players were frustrated by a Houston offence that they thought ran far too many isolation plays for Harden was echoed in subsequent media accounts, including the Yahoo Sports report Tuesday and one published by ESPN the day before.
ESPN claimed that there was “friction” between Harden and Paul and cited “a high-ranking Rockets source” as providing this opinion: “There’s too much d— turmoil. There’s some hard feelings right now everywhere.”
“Chris wants to coach James,” a source described as “familiar with the stars’ dynamic” told ESPN. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.’ “
Morey said that the two players, as well as himself and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, were “all super competitive, all frustrated we were eliminated from the playoffs, all want to get over the hump.” He added, “That leads to a lot of competitive fire. All of it is normal. We’re all in the same boat, pursuing the championship.
“We’re all frustrated we’re not there. But there is nothing past that.”
ESPN also reported that Paul was among the many Rockets being “aggressively shopped” by Morey, while noting the likely difficulty in finding a taker for the 34-year-old’s contract. After arriving in Houston via a 2017 trade from the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul agreed to a deal as a free agent the following summer that includes salaries of approximately $ 38.5 million (U.S.), $ 41.3 million and $ 44.2 million over the three upcoming seasons.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was said by ESPN, citing league sources, to have already been “expressing regret” about Paul’s contract “to Rockets staffers and even in front of rival executives.”
On CBS Sports Network on Tuesday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania said that “there have been several teams that (the Rockets) have reached out to” about Paul, just as they have done with “several members of their roster, aside from James Harden.” He asserted, though, that “everyone around Houston’s front office is pretty much resigned to the fact that Chris Paul and James Harden, they’re our duo, they have to figure things out.”
Asked whether the “tension” between Harden and Paul was “fixable,” Charania replied that he thought they were “talking now” but said that Paul and other Houston players had gone to D’Antoni to ask that the offense “include more ball movement.”
“This is a relationship that, clearly, I think both sides would admit needs mending,” Charania said, “but Chris Paul is owed $ 125 million over three years, there is not a team in the league right now that is like, ‘I’m gonna go trade for (Paul).’”
Morey may have been “frustrated” by his team’s postseason exit, but he told the Chronicle that he was “very frustrated right now” about the steady drip of stories alleging turmoil among in Houston.
“We’re literally trying to do real work on making the team better,” he said, “and every day I have to learn about a new media rock that has been turned over, and they crawl out and tweet something, and I’m supposed to react.”