James Harden’s rapid disillusionment with the Houston Rockets over the past few weeks has been dizzying. The former NBA MVP somehow went from being a satisfied, extremely well-compensated cornerstone of one of the best teams in the West to a guy desperately trying to force his way to the Eastern Conference.
So what changed? According to NBA insider Ric Bucher, one of the things that has led all parties involved to this point is Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta’s support for the Republican Party and President Donald Trump.
“I immediately thought this was Daryl Morey leaving, and Mike D’Antoni leaving, and Russell Westbrook and James Harden going ‘No offense to Stephen Silas or Rafael Stone, but we don’t want a starter kit, we’re playing for a championship,’” Bucher said on “The Odd Couple” podcast with Chris Broussard and Rob Parker.
Vanessa Bryant kept it real. https://t.co/0QXhwdBf6w
— Game 7 (@game7__) November 16, 2020
“But what I heard is — and we know how much politics and political position had to do with the boycott and protests during the (NBA) bubble — I’m hearing that Tilman Fertitta’s strong Republican support and donations is one of the things that is contributing to this dissatisfaction, and those two [Westbrook and Harden] are not the only ones to want out of Houston. Lesser players are of the same mind. There is a revolt here because they look at Fertitta as a guy who supports the current president.”
Fertitta, who purchased the Rockets back in 2017 for $2.2 billion, has been a prominent GOP donor for many years. Beyond that, he has been linked to President Trump – though the extent of their relationship is unclear.
So did Fertitta’s support for President Trump really contribute to poisoning the once-great relationship Harden had with the Rockets? It’s hard to say.
The obvious answer is that other factors played into this mess. The departure of head coach Mike D’Antoni (reportedly over compensation issues), GM Daryl Morey’s subsequent exit and defection to the Philadelphia 76ers, and the awkward fit of Russell Westbrook on the roster all seem like more likely causes.
The perks of being a Laker. https://t.co/yt6hWFrxXi
— Game 7 (@game7__) November 17, 2020
That said, it’s very possible that Fertitta’s affiliation played some role in what transpired.
Until Harden is off the Rockets, the truth about what caused his sudden change of heart will remain a mystery. But based on everything coming out over the past 24 hours, it seems unlikely that’ll happen any time soon.
Harden may want to end up on the Brooklyn Nets alongside Kevin Durant, but it will be very difficult for him to bully his way there. The Rockets will want a massive package in return for him, and if Brooklyn doesn’t step up to the plate with that, there is really no incentive for Fertitta to deal away his best player.
One way or another – this will be a fun situation to monitor over the coming days and weeks.