NBA trade rumors: James Harden, Chris Paul tension didn't factor into Russell Westbrook deal

The Rockets sent Chris Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook following a season in which there was reported tension between Paul and star James Harden in Houston.

But the reason behind the trade had nothing to do with the reported rift between Harden and Paul, according to ESPN, which cited unidentified sources. The report notes that their relationship was considered “manageable and not unusual for NBA alpha dogs.” ESPN’s anonymous source revealed early Friday: “That would not have driven us to do something we otherwise wouldn’t have done.”

ESPN reported Thursday that the Rockets dealt Paul and two protected first-rounders in 2024 and 2026 to the Thunder in exchange for Westbrook. They also agreed to swap draft picks in 2021 and 2025.

The mounting rift between Paul and Harden had been reported by Yahoo Sports in June, revealing Paul demanded a trade because the relationship between him and Harden was “unsalvageable and the star players want a divorce.” But Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Paul forcefully denied the tension, while Houston guard Austin Rivers called the report “fake news.” 

“I’ve talked to Chris since (the end of the playoffs), for sure,” Morey told the Houston Chronicle in June. “Myself, (coach) Mike D’Antoni, James Harden are all super competitive, all frustrated we were eliminated from the playoffs, all want to get over the hump. That leads to a lot of competitive fire. All of it is normal. We’re all in the same boat, pursuing the championship. We’re all frustrated we’re not there. But there is nothing past that.

“I’m very frustrated right now. We’re literally trying to do real work on making the team better and every day I have to learn about a new media rock that has been turned over.”

Harden and Westbrook, who previously played together from 2009-12 in Oklahoma City, reportedly were working on reuniting after Paul George was traded from the Thunder to the Clippers. 

With Harden and Westbrook on board, the Rockets will look to build on the 53-29 record they earned during the 2018-19 season, which ended with an early exit from the playoffs.