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James Harden, Russell Westbrook reportedly concerned about Houston direction

Kurt Helin and Corey Robinson react to the official announcement that the 2020-21 NBA season will begin on Dec. 22 and share what they're looking forward to in the upcoming campaign.

Daryl Morey is out as GM and the team’s general counsel, Rafael Stone, has taken over that chair. Mike D’Antoni is out as head coach, with Stephen Silas being brought in to take over the reins. All this just a couple of years after Tillman Fertitta became the owner of the Houston Rockets.

All that change has James Harden and Russell Westbrook questioning the direction of the Houston Rockets, reports Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

In the wake of the departures of head coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey, Harden and Westbrook have expressed concern about the direction of the franchise through direct conversations or discussions with their representatives and the Rockets’ front office, sources said.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, recently promoted general manager Rafael Stone and recently hired head coach Stephen Silas have emphasized that the franchise remains committed to fielding a contender while featuring the two perennial All-Stars in their primes. However, the concerns expressed by Harden and Westbrook that Houston’s window as a contender could be closing has left the organization fearful that the superstars’ commitment to remaining with the Rockets could be wavering.

Harden and Westbrook both reportedly signed off on the Silas hiring — and the new coach wants a more unpredictable style — but their concerns about the number of changes in Houston and the championship window of this team are legitimate. Are the small-ball Rockets heading into next season better than the Lakers? Clippers? Nuggets? Warriors? Jazz? Mavericks? It’s easy to see the Rockets as a five seed or lower in a deep Western Conference, starting the playoffs on the road and not being favorites to get out of the first round.

Houston internally still wants to bring Harden, Westbrook and the core group back for training camp next month and make a run at winning — they believe with Harden they can be contenders.

With no first-round pick this season and very little cap space — Houston has $99.5 million in salary locked in to pay Harden, Westbrook, and Eric Gordon, with the league salary cap set at $109.1 million — it will be challenging to make significant improvements to the roster for this season. Or the one after that.

While ownership and the front office have insisted they want to contend for a title this season, Westbrook trade rumors have flown around the league. There has been plenty of buzz around the league that Harden — who has said he wants to finish his career in Houston but also wants a ring — would survey the situation and ask for a trade, although that has been expected at the trade deadline or before the 2021-22 season. However, if Westbrook gets traded this offseason, Harden could up his exit timeline.

There are doubts around the league that Harden and Westbrook can win together, but it was Harden and Fertitta who reportedly pushed to trade Chris Paul for Westbrook, something Morey is rumored to have resisted.

It feels like the two former MVPs in Houston have sensed which way the wind is blowing, and big changes may be coming sooner than Rockets fans had expected.