Only a few minutes into his introductory news conference, Russell Westbrook said something Friday that would've caused a collective spit take around the NBA just a few weeks ago."I only care about one team," Westbrook said, "and that's the Houston Rockets."
After spending his first 11 seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook officially embarked on a new chapter Friday. It was a somewhat surreal image, Westbrook dressed in Rockets colors with general manager Daryl Morey sitting to his right."To get something great, you've got to give up something great," Morey said.
"We've been friends for many, many years," Westbrook said of Harden. "Since I was 10, actually. So we've played with each other in Oklahoma City, and to be able to win something, you've got to be willing to sacrifice some parts of your game, and we both understand that.
Westbrook and Harden played together for three seasons in Oklahoma City, culminating in 2012. Harden, who won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award that season, was traded to the Rockets before the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign. Westbrook was already an All-Star at the time, but both players established themselves as franchise players, winning MVPs and making NBA history along the way.
Westbrook had been seen as a likely lifer in OKC,especially after pledging his loyalty following the 2016 departure of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors. Westbrook signed an extension that summer to provide stability to the franchise, and then he re-signed a new five-year supermax extension the next summer, planting his flag seemingly for the long term.
But with circumstances changing, Westbrook and the Thunder were both ready to move on."It's tough," Westbrook said. "It's something that will stay with me the rest of my life. Because I basically grew up there, in Oklahoma City. Eighteen years old in Oklahoma City and the people, the organization, never done me wrong. They always stood up for me and my family — always had my back — and I'm very, very grateful and I don't take that for granted.
"We both understand that we have one common goal and that's to win a championship. We understand what we have to do. I'm not worried about it, and I know James isn't worried about it. I can play off the ball; I don't have to touch the ball to impact the game. That's the best way for me to come in and impact this team. I can do other things on the floor to make sure we have a better chance to win."