With Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson injured, the West is open. It's been a long time since we 've had such an open path to the Finals with so many teams legitimately thinking "Why not us?"
You'd think the top favorite for the top position would be the team that gave the Warriors their biggest challenge, but the Houston Rockets are in a lot of turmoil.
This didn't happen overnight. We need to go back a bit over a year when the Rockets got a new owner, Tilman Fertitta. He purchased what was one of the best franchises in the league and cashed out XYZ, and it didn't take long to see signs of trouble. The Rockets were "a hamstring away" from dethroning the Warriors in '17/'18 and everyone expected them to bring the team back, add a backup PG to hedge Paul's injury history and go after the Warriors again. But, Ariza went to the Suns and it became clear that despite the talk, Fertitta gave Daryl Morey a mandate to get out of luxury tax. It's hard to beat the Warriors, it's impossible if you are not willing to spend.
The new roster didn't gel as planned and early in the season, the Rockets were dead last in the West. Players started getting injured and we got 100% pure Harden-ball. Four players standing in the corners while Harden dribbles a million times and then flops/draws a foul or travels/steps back for a three. They were winning, but nobody was happy.
We all suspected this style of play couldn't be sustainable, but the team gave Harden full support, saying he has to play like this with all the injuries. You could see something was up when Steph Curry was mic'd up during the Charlotte All-Star and told a coach Harden just walked up to him in the hallway and started to explain he didn't want to play like this, but he had to.
The Rockets recovered, CP3 came back and they made the playoffs. Yet again, the Warriors were too much and their season was over in the 2nd round.
In a recent story by Tim McMahon from ESPN, it seems the locker room was as frustrated as most fans were. None more so than Chris Paul. The point guard had major issues with Harden's style of play and wanted more ball movement. You know you are in trouble when CP3 has the high ground on pounding the ball too much.
"Chris wants to coach James," says a source familiar with the stars' dynamic. "James looks at him like, 'You can't even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'"
Paul has shown signs of physical decline, and with that, his role will change. That is possibly one of the most difficult evolutions a star player has to make - accepting he's not a star anymore and change his attitude.
The situation was so bad it got to the point where Paul rejoiced when Harden was out of the lineup, running the second unit the way he sees fit. Paul would even ask D'Antoni not to put Harden back in, while Harden would demand to be on the court.
Morey putting everyone on the trading block makes more sense now. This team needs a shake-up.