Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Monday characterized reported tension between stars James Harden and Chris Paul as the result of the two "high-level competitors" whose "only goal in life at this point is to win the title."
Appearing on ESPN Radio's "Golic & Wingo," Morey was responding to a long ESPN story, published Monday under a headline that read in part, "An unsettling vibe surrounds these Rockets," in which they were described as a team with "too much damn turmoil."
"There's some hard feelings right now everywhere," an unidentified high-ranking Rockets source told ESPN.
Morey's radio appearance covered several topics, but included his reaction to perceived tension between Harden and Paul, and the GM confirmed outright that Paul has not asked to be traded.
But Morey also admitted there are frustrated individuals that include Harden, Paul, coach Mike D'Antoni and Morey himself as the Rockets have continued to struggle to overtake the Warriors in the Western Conference.
"I'm frustrated, our top players are frustrated, Mike D'Antoni is frustrated," Morey said. "We want to take the last step and be the champion, and I think it's good that there is tension in the sense that we all want to win."
According to ESPN, there is more than frustration and tension.
From Monday's 3,300-word story: "There is a disconnect between the front office and D'Antoni, who wasn't in favor of the Rockets' decision to part ways with five members of his coaching staff but didn't fight Morey's recommendations for the changes. There is friction between James Harden and Chris Paul, the franchise's two maximum-salary centerpieces. (Morey has aggressively shopped the Rockets under contract, including Paul and center Clint Capela, in the trade market.) And doubts linger about [owner Tilman] Fertitta, the inexperienced owner steering the ship through choppy waters while creating waves of his own."
The Rockets this year went 53-29 to win the Southwest Division, but were fourth in the West behind not only the Warriors, but also the Nuggets and Trail Blazers.
Houston easily handled the Jazz in the opening round of the playoffs but then bowed out in the second round to the Warriors, victims of ending up on the same side of the playoff bracket as Golden State. It marked the fourth time in the past five postseasons that the Rockets fell to the Warriors.
Despite having won more games in recent years than any team but the Warriors, another playoff exit combined with gutting D'Antoni's staff, appearing lukewarm to the coach himself and shopping the starting five on the trade market has "created what could at best be described as an unsettling vibe for a franchise," ESPN asserts.
Now, layered on top of that so-called vibe is the Lakers' acquisition of All-Star Anthony Davis and reports that they'll be looking to add at least one more top-notch player to go with him and LeBron James, perhaps forming another formidable Western Conference hurdle.
"Somehow we've been lost in the shuffle," Morey said Monday, adding that the Rockets will be aggressive this offseason ("We are either going to add a third star or a top midlevel player to our core") and should be considered the favorite in a wide-open Western Conference next season, a sentiment not shared by all at the moment.