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Report: Several Rockets frustrated by ‘problematic’ star-centered culture

Michael Smith and Michael Holley discuss the rumors surrounding the future of the Rockets now that Russell Westbrook and James Harden have reportedly expressed frustration.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook are reportedly concerned about the Rockets’ direction. Westbrook is apparently so bothered by Houston’s culture, he requested a trade.

But those stars aren’t alone in their misgivings.

Rockets role players P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Danuel House and Austin Rivers also had issues last season.

Kelly Iko, Sam Amick and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Former teammates have described the culture in Houston as problematic, sources said, highlighting a situation that caters far too much to its stars.
P.J. Tucker, the undeniable glue of the team, has been irate over his contract situation all season long, sources said.
Eric Gordon, who won Sixth Man of the Year in 2017 endured a difficult season from an injury standpoint, but was also not pleased with how his role and importance had diminished since the 2016-17 season, sources said.
House was another player who wasn’t pleased with his usage and involvement in the offense and has verbally challenged D’Antoni, Harden, and Westbrook this season, sources said. His January outburst in a road win against the Hawks was the first instance where House publicly lost his cool in that manner but this wasn’t an isolated incident, sources said.
At times, Rivers was unhappy with his inconsistent playing time and utilization, sources said. In one instance, Rivers went on an expletive-laden tirade following a game where D’Antoni called for him to be substituted, only to change his mind and insert new signing Demarre Carroll. In another instance, Rivers was barked at by Harden after the former MVP missed a free throw and blamed Rivers — who was standing up by the bench — for distracting him

Players griping about money, playing time and role?

These are the most normal of NBA problems.

But that they’re spilling into the media with years of backlog suggests more serious trouble in Houston. Iko, Amick and Charania detail how many former Rockets took exception to the team’s culture. The whole article is worth reading.

This all reflects poorly on Harden. He didn’t get along well enough with stars Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and now Westbrook. Clearly, role players also have issues. It’s just not that enjoyable to watch Harden dominate the ball in isolation and cover for his poor defensive effort.

Players will tolerate more amid winning. But the Rockets are sliding in the wrong direction.

Plus, Houston had a lame-duck coach in Mike D’Antoni and, in hindsight, a lame-duck general manager in Daryl Morey last season. The whole situation was combustible.

So, Tucker agitates about his contract extension. Gordon pins his personal struggles elsewhere. House and Rivers grumble about their roles.

Now what?

Tucker, Gordon and House are still under contract next season. Tucker is in his mid-30s, so Houston might not rush to guarantee him more money before necessary. Gordon could see a larger role if Westbrook gets traded, but Gordon must stay healthier to take advantage. In the simplest situation: House lost standing in the bubble to complain about, well, anything.

Maybe Harden will look himself in the mirror and adjust his leadership style. But this far into his career, I wouldn’t count on it. He has been thoroughly enabled (including by Morey, who deserves scrutiny for overseeing this chemistry mess).

New general manager Rafael Stone and coach Stephen Silas have their hands full to set a better culture.