Now that the James Harden trade is official as of Thursday morning, Rockets players are free to move forward and think about the future of this team post-Harden, and in a shootaround call with reporters on Thursday, it was Eric Gordon, the longest-tenured player on the team, who clarified the mood in the locker room.
According to Gordon, the deal gives the Rockets a chance to move forward with a “real direction.” After spending so much time winning at a high level alongside Harden, Gordon was willing to give the superstar the benefit of the doubt, but made it clear that Harden had made up his mind to leave Houston and it wasn’t going to work any longer.
Eric Gordon on James Harden: “I don’t really think he meant to disrespect the other players, but he wanted his way out, and he got it.”
Gordon said the trade gives the Rockets a chance to have “a real direction.”
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) January 14, 2021
With a core of Christian Wood, John Wall, and the newly-acquired Victor Oladipo in addition to veteran role players like Gordon, DeMarcus Cousins, Danuel House Jr. and others, the Rockets are in good shape to remain competitive in 2021. They likely will trade P.J. Tucker who seems to still be unhappy and should have a nice trade market according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
When Gordon was asked about the identity of the team going forward, he hyped up the opportunity for Houston to be “aggressive,” playing the type of fast-paced and overwhelming style that new head coach Stephen Silas has tried to install since being hired.
I asked Eric Gordon what the #Rockets identity is after the James Harden trade: "I can't really judge that until we get everybody here. We should be a very aggressive team. Very, very aggressive team since we're younger."
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) January 14, 2021
Through nine games, Houston is 12th in pace and they have had some stellar offensive nights when Harden or Wall had it going. Wood is scoring 23 per game. All the shooting accumulated over the years is still here, and Wall is a capable offensive conductor even if he’s not an MVP-level player like Harden.
A change of scenery could be good for Oladipo, who looks physically like himself again, has started hot from deep, and is a nice partner as a defender and scorer alongside Wall. The Rockets will have the chance to re-sign him this summer.
It’s hard to say that the Rockets will be chasing home-court advantage again as they have for nearly every season with Harden, but Houston will surely be able to stay afloat. Sometimes addition by subtraction can be what’s needed for a group to come together, as we’ve seen countless times in sports.
Of course removing an MVP candidate from the equation will make this team worse overall, but the difference between this deal and other superstar trades is that by nabbing Oladipo and keeping Wall and Wood, the bottom will not fall out. And judging from how harshly Cousins and Wall responded to Harden’s tirade this week, the Rockets were clearly tired of the cloud looming over them.