October 28 - November 1, 2019
When Oklahoma City meets Houston this season, the once-unthinkable will happen: Russell Westbrook will play against the Thunder. During Westbrook Week, Daily Thunder will be covering the player who means more to the franchise and fanbase than any other: the memories, the joy, the frustrations, and the place he'll continue to hold in Thunderdom. We invite you to process with us.
Day 3: How to Watch the Rockets
Opening night was very strange without Russell Westbrook starting for Oklahoma City Thunder. This franchise has never seen a season without Russ. Paul George's trade request to get to the Clippers led Sam Presti to do what we wished he never had to, and OKC waved goodbye to their long-term cornerstone Russell Westbrook this off-season. Many fans were sad, while others understood. The youth movement is set to begin and there will be bumps and bruises along the way.
Westbrook has played well in his Rockets debut: finding open guys and rebounding the basketball. The Thunder future will rely in part on what the Rockets do. Here's why, as Thunder fans, we should not root for them.
1. Houston Rockets Fans are the Worst
For years, Rockets fans have bashed the way Westbrook plays basketball. They said he’s inefficient, didn’t deserve to be the 2016-17 MVP, can’t shoot, and so on. There has been a complete 540° since they traded for him.
Twitter has been toxic when it comes to Westbrook and James Harden. Now that the two have teamed up, it seems all is well. Every fan is different. There are fans in Houston who have always said good things about Westbrook. But the majority reaction has been backlash. They backed their star, which is respectable, but did so by going at Westbrook.
Many fans around the league bashing Westbrook would love him on their favorite team. The trade does not erase the past, but reveals the real headline: you may hate a player until he is on your team.
2. OKC Owns Houston's Draft Picks
The Thunder traded Westbrook to Houston and received a bundle of draft compensation and Chris Paul in return. Two first round picks come in 2024 and 2026, with the right to swap picks in 2021 and 2025.
Most likely in 2021, barring a huge injury, we will not be swapping picks. But when we look at 2024-2026, OKC owns Houston’s future for that three-year span. When paired together with the Clippers compensation, there is no way to root for Houston or Los Angeles. You can still root for Russell Westbrook, but not the Rockets team.
Westbrook deserves a ring; he has been through good and bad. But this is a sensitive subject when it determines OKC and their future. People can say, "Well, Houston can win a championship this year and it is done with. Pick swaps don’t start until after next season, so it doesn’t affect OKC until then." The counter argument for that: if Houston wins a title, then the Westbrook/Harden combination will stay together long-term.
If the two stay together long-term and are happy playing with each other, they will win games. The ultimate goal going forward is for the Rockets not to win games. The Rockets losing games is a win for the Thunder. Why would we root for Houston to succeed when if they fail, we win?
3. Houston is OKC's Rival
The Thunder and Rockets have developed a good rivalry over the years. The Westbrook and Harden match up makes for must-watch TV. It will still be a good rivalry, one that is shifted highly in favor of the Rockets now. So when the two teams match up against each other now, are you going to root for the Rockets to beat the Thunder?
Even though the Thunder are looking to the draft to build, facing off against these contending teams is good for the future. Seeing the young guys play well against top-tier competition is a positive. Winning a few games against these teams can be building blocks; continuing to improve each time will pay off in the long-term. Fans should not be focused on the Rockets beating us, they should be rooting for the Thunder to stay in the game and possibly win.
4. Houston's Handling of the Hong Kong/China Situation
The NBA and their relationship with China is a very touchy subject. There is a lot of money at stake, but there is also a dangerous situation going on in Hong Kong. Thousands of peoples' safety is at risk
When Daryl Morey came out and tweeted in support of the people of Hong Kong, he took a stand. He spoke his mind– something a lot of people wouldn’t do. Morey's boss, Tillman Fertitta, was not happy and showed that he puts money above all. Tillman threw Morey – who built this team while avoiding the tax Fertitta didn’t want to pay – under the bus. Fertitta came out afterward and said Morey was the best general manager in the NBA and everything was good. But the fact remains he put the money from China ahead of everything. The damage was done.
5. We Have Our Own Future to Worry About
The Thunder have a very bright future. So much draft compensation. They also have two cornerstones that have the opportunity to become very good: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley. Fans should be focused on watching them grow, not what the Rockets are doing.
Gilgeous-Alexander showed on opening night that the future is very bright. He showed glimpses of being dominant and carving up the Jazz defense. Bazley also showed great energy on the defensive end. Against the Wizards, Gilegous-Alexander had a career-high 28 points. He had numerous highlight plays, such as this dunk. Darius Bazley also had some good moments that were capped off by a beautiful pump fake and drive.
Spending more time watching Westbrook takes away the chance to watch this young team grow. Look back to 2009: we were watching Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Harden, and Westbrook play every night. Things were great– the team was young and loved playing together. They became good very quickly and became contenders rather than underdogs. It felt like all of that went faster than the blink of an eye. Watching these young players shaping the Oklahoma City future right now should be your priority. Windows open and close very fast in this league. Enjoy it while you can.