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League Insiders Say This Is The 'Last Dance' For James Harden And Russell Westbrook

(via MassLive.com)

(via MassLive.com)

When the Rockets picked up Russell Westbrook in the summer of 2019, it was almost like something out of a storybook: two former teammates get to reunite and fight, together, to finally earn that elusive championship.

From the beginning, though, there were doubts about how their partnership would work. As two ball-dominant guards who have a history of postseason failures, it wasn't exactly a match made in heaven.

And now, league insiders are questioning their future together not even a full season after it began.

(via Bleacher Report)

Whether Westbrook's presence changes anything remains to be seen. The Harden-Westbrook partnership was still evolving when the season halted on March 11, having produced both exhilarating highs (a 121-111 victory over the Lakers on Feb. 7) and shocking lows (a four-game losing streak in March that included defeats by the Knicks, Hornets and Magic).

Every Rockets game in the bubble will feel like a referendum of one kind or another: on Harden, on the Harden-Westbrook pairing, on the Rockets' analytics-driven offense, on their small-ball, center-less lineup and even on their leadership.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni is in the final season of his contract. Morey has been viewed as vulnerable ever since his controversial tweet on Hong Kong last fall. It's unclear how another playoff pratfall will impact everyone's future.

Moreover, the Rockets are leaning on one of the oldest rotations in the league, and their two stars are in their late primes. Harden turns 31 on Aug. 26, just as the first round of playoffs will be wrapping up. Westbrook turns 32 in November.

The West will only get tougher next season, with the Lakers and Clippers still around, the Warriors fully healed and the Pelicans and Mavericks rising.

If Houston doesn't progress far in the playoffs this year, some think it could lead to a complete rebuild.

There's a heightened sense of urgency all around. In the view of the longtime advance scout, it's truly now or never for the Rockets.

"This," he said, "is the last dance for them."

The Rockets have poured everything into their current roster. They traded Chris Paul (and a whole bunch of picks) last summer to make room for Russ and then traded their center, Clint Capela, at the deadline to go all-in on their small-ball strategy.

The future of Mike D'Antoni and Daryl Morey is up in the air and, as such, a disappointing finish might really be the end of this team as we know it.

With so much on the line, it will be interesting to see how they respond.