The Rockets approached the 2020-21 season last October reeling from a second-round exit in the NBA bubble, yet still confident the Finals were within reach in the second year of James Harden’s partnership with Russell Westbrook. Such plans were quickly derailed.
Former general manager Daryl Morey resigned from the organization on Oct. 15, ending a tenure in Houston that marked one of the most fruitful periods in franchise history. The Rockets notched eight straight postseason appearances with Morey at the helm, adding two conference finals berths and a near-dethroning of the Warriors’ dynasty. And while Morey’s surprise resignation sent ripples throughout the league, it was a minor blip compared to what followed.
Westbrook requested a trade in November 2020, the byproduct of rumblings regarding discontent from his recently-reunited costar. Westbrook’s wanting out was a complication. Harden’s potential departure was a crisis, one that became increasingly urgent as opening night approached. The three-time scoring champion skipped part of training camp as he jet-setted across the country.