I’ve been a Houston Rockets fan since 1986. There have only been three times where I’ve questioned my loyalty to the team.
The first happened in 1992, when team management alienated Hakeem Olajuwon by accusing him of faking injury. As a non-Houston native, I was drawn to the team by The Dream’s star power rather than specific loyalty to a city, so when Olajuwon subsequently requested a trade and the team seemed ready to oblige, I was prepared to follow Hakeem to his new squad.
Thankfully for me (and Rockets fans everywhere), these guys worked out their differences and it resulted in a title just two years later and a second one the following season.
The second time I questioned my fandom was in 1996 when the Rockets traded fan favorites Robert Horry and Sam Cassell along with Chucky Brown and Mark Bryant to the Phoenix Suns for Charles Barkley. And though I eventually came around on the trade, my initial reaction was one of shock: “How could they break up a title team like that?”
I had a brief moment (roughly 24-48 hours) where I was so mad I questioned whether I would watch my Rockets again. Then I realized they still had Hakeem. And Clyde. And Rudy T. I wasn’t going anywhere.
The third time happened on July 11, 2019 when the Rockets shockingly traded Chris Paul and several draft picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook. For years, Westbrook has been the complete anti-thesis to Moreyball and the style played in H-town.
The Rockets value efficiency. Westbrook is inefficient. The Rockets like guys who can shoot. Westbrook can’t hit the broad side of a barn (30% from three for his career, 65% from the line last season). Houston prefers high basketball IQ guys, while Westbrook is a quintessential chucker who relies more on athleticism than on making the “right” play. He’ll gladly barf up a double-team contested three with the game on the line or clank multiple covered long twos in a row.
How this is going to work out is anyone’s guess, really. There’s no doubting Russ is a force of nature. And if anyone is going to make two ball-dominant guards work, it’s Mike D’Antoni. It’s also a good thing that the Rockets kept Clint Capela, who was the subject of trade rumors all summer, because a Russ-Clint pick-and-roll could easily be just as devastating as the Beard-Clint one that’s been established as one of the league’s more effective weapons.
But it’s Russell freaking Westbrook. I don’t need to get into his plethora of negatives. I believe AK covered them sufficiently in his piece earlier this week. They are plenty and they are in profound contrast to what the Rockets’ own basketball philosophy says they are looking for in a player.
It’s also a cruel, cruel twist of the basketball fates. Westbrook’s been on many Rockets fan’s hate list (including mine) for several years now, since the MVP debacle of 2017 in which Russ beat out Harden for the award as a six-seed. We’ve complained about him here at TDS, on the Twitter account, and privately under our breath. Now, he’s donning our beloved Rockets red, which would only be worse in this writer’s eyes if somehow Draymond Green was joining him, but let’s not speak that evil into existence, please.
Anyway, ultimately, we all know I’m not going anywhere. My initial emotional reaction to this deal (burn down the Toyota Center!) is gradually subsiding, and rational thought is somehow returning amidst the cloudy haze of empty triple doubles on it’s way to H-town. I’ll always be a Rockets fan, and most of you will too.
In fact, I’ll venture to say that if you’re willing to disavow your entire fanship over this one move, that you might not be that dedicated to begin with. I’m going to cheer when Russ does well. Most of you will too. I’ll most certainly grumble and probably piss and moan when he does not, but I already do that with James Harden and I love me some Beard.
The point is, rooting for a guy you don’t like won’t be that much different than rooting for the guy you do like. They’re both wearing the same uniform now.
It may feel a bit like a panic move by Daryl Morey — afraid of being left behind in an ever-evolving Western Conference cast of nomadic superstars — and it just may be one, but if it somehow works out (stranger things have happened), Morey’s going to look like a genius. Don’t forget, it wasn’t that long ago that the 2018-2019 season came to an unceremonious close and we all wondered if Chris Paul had finally begun the inevitable slide into washed.
Whether or not going (slightly) younger and more athletic but less efficient and volatile ends up being the answer is a whole ‘nother question. But you can be assured that as Rockets fans, all of us here at TDS will be watching closely and waiting to find out. We’re not going anywhere.