The Houston Rockets hit reset on half of their backcourt over the summer when they sent Chris Paul and a few draft picks to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell Westbrook. The move means that the Rocket backcourt is now a pair of league MVPs in Westbrook and James Harden, but it has also led to questions about how the two ball-dominant guards will fit with one another.
Of course, everyone in Houston has faith that the pair will be fine, in part because they were teammates with the Thunder for a few years before Harden became a Rocket. But as Harden explained to Alex Shultz of GQ, he believes his connection with Westbrook is much deeper than that of a pair of former teammates.
“It’s not like me and Russ were just teammates in Oklahoma City for three years,” Harden said. “We’ve known each other since we were 10 years old. There’s a different kind of relationship and communication that we have, a different type of excitement that we have for each other.”
Harden and Westbrook have always been tight, even after their careers went in separate directions. Still, a lot has happened in the time since the two donned Thunder uniforms. Most notably, they’ve established themselves as two of the top guards in the league, a pair of players whose teams have been at their best when they have the ball in their hands. This naturally leads to questions about compatibility with one another.
While Harden did point out that he and Paul were in a similar position when they teamed up and they made it work, he did concede that things won’t be firing on all cylinders right away with Westbrook. Still, he thinks that won’t be a long-term concern.
“It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out,” Harden said. “Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.”
The Rockets do, indeed, need them to get on the same page by the postseason, something that was magnified on Thursday, when the team’s owner, Tilman Fertitta, discussed the team’s window being open now. The Western Conference is stacked with talent this year, but in the event their 1-2 punch in the backcourt can get on the same page, Houston has as good of a chance as anyone to represent the West in the NBA Finals this season.