Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is banking on two talented childhood friends to help deliver the franchise a championship. He also understands the urgency to win a title has increased exponentially and a failure to do so could set the organization back for the foreseeable future.
"I think we put ourselves in the position that if we don't win it in the next three or four years, we probably aren't going to win one in the next 10 years," Fertitta told Yahoo Sports in an interview to promote his debut book titled “Shut Up And Listen,” which hits all major bookstores on Tuesday. "This is our window, and we need to seize the opportunity."
This aggressive outlook stems from the blockbuster trade orchestrated by general manager Daryl Morey this summer that sent Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
To sweeten the deal for the Thunder, the Rockets sent their 2024 and ‘26 first-round picks along with the right to swap first-round picks in 2021 and 2025. It's unlikely a swap would occur in 2021 because it's based on who has the better record and the Thunder could be headed for a lengthy rebuild. The 2025 pick is top-10 protected.
The Texas billionaire, who is also sole owner of Fertitta Entertainment, the restaurant giant Landry's and the Golden Nugget Casinos and Hotels, is running his NBA team in the same manner as his other business ventures: audaciously and unwavering.
"This is the time," Fertitta told Yahoo Sports. "I just re-signed Eric Gordon who is 30 and I've got Russell and James and Eric and Clint Capela for the next four years. P.J. [Tucker] is 34 and our two stars are 30. So this is their window. Let's seize the opportunity."
Fertitta says he was never concerned about bringing in another ball-dominant guard to pair with Harden.
"No, because I can remember watching Russell Westbrook against us a couple of times last year and I saw how he ran up and down that court and how his athleticism was so superior," he told Yahoo Sports. "And I think it's one of the things that we were a little short on."
The Rockets were able to get a glimpse of how well Harden could coexist with another ball-dominant guard during the two-year Paul tenure. Overall, the run was favorable as they came within one game from advancing to the 2018 NBA Finals. Last season, they were again eliminated by the Golden State Warriors — this time in six games in the second round.
Widely chronicled tension between Paul and Harden prevented the two from reaching their full potential. Fertitta believes Harden and Westbrook will get along fine.
"It's so important to have the right chemistry," Fertitta told Yahoo Sports. "These are two guys that grew up in L.A. together and have known each other most of their lives. And they can talk to each other. You can say things to each other and the other would not get offended because you're lifelong buddies. And so I think the chemistry's going to be great this year.
"I wasn't in the locker room myself last year. But, I would watch Chris on the court and it appeared to me that they got along well. I think it's stressful situations. Teammates talk and chat with each other positively and negatively because everybody wants to win. Nobody wants to win more than Chris Paul and James Harden. I think this is gonna be a great fit for Chris in Oklahoma City. I think Oklahoma City is going to surprise people with how good they are. I think there's a lot left in Chris Paul's tank. I think Chris Paul's gonna surprise people with how good he is and I think it's going to surprise people with how good Westbrook fits in with James Harden."
Fertitta has a 95-5 philosophy that has resonated with some of the top entrepreneurs in the world — which he touches on this in his upcoming book. He believes 95 percent of everything is right, and in order to achieve maximum success, one should identify the five percent that is wrong and enhance it.
He was asked to define the five percent that's been plaguing the Rockets in recent years.
"The five percent is hitting the key shot at the right time, making and playing the right defense at the right time at the end of a game," he explained to Yahoo Sports. "And that's really it. Can you hit the key shot when you need it? And some teams hit them, and some don't. And sometimes we hit them, and we haven't hit them when we've had the opportunity to knock them out, we didn't come with the knockout punch. And that's just the way it is."
Over the past few years, the Rockets have been fixated on beating the Warriors. From ownership, to management, to the players, they've collectively made their positions public on numerous occasions.
With Kevin Durant exiting the Bay Area for Brooklyn, and Klay Thompson recovering from an ACL tear, the Warriors won't be entering the season as the championship favorites.
"I can honestly tell you this: Now we're hunting the Clippers, the Lakers, the Jazz, the Trail Blazers, the Nuggets and the Warriors," Fertitta told Yahoo Sports. "It's going to be exciting. Let's be honest, it's really going to be who doesn't have the injuries and who's healthy. And you know, it's going to be good. I think that we realize we've got to have a team that's pretty deep in all areas because you're going to have to beat — there's no telling who you're going to have to play. There's no telling who you're going to have to play from the East. Are you going to be playing Toronto again or Boston or Philly or, you know, Brooklyn? Who knows?"
Mike D’Antoni returns in his fourth season as the Rockets’ coach. He’s stepping into the final year of his contract after extension talks broke down over the summer.
"I think Mike D'Antoni's going to be coaching here for a long time," Fertitta told Yahoo Sports.
But right now, one of his main priorities is his book.
"HarperCollins Publishers called me and said, why don't we write a book," he recalled. "They came in and saw me, and they said, we don't want a life story book. We want to know how you do it. And they had seen my 'Billion Dollar Buyer' show and just saw how I kind of focus in on certain things, the 95-5 rule. There are no spare customers. Take the word ‘no’ out of your vocabulary. And they just thought it would be a great book. And so here we are. And 18 months later, it's coming out now."
Fertitta loves how business can help an individual grow and prosper. It's the same empowerment NBA players have used to chart their own futures — and find new teams — in the league.
Most owners and executives view tampering as something players consistently violate, while the rules are forcefully upheld with them. In showcasing his sense of humor, Fertitta took a hard pass on the matter.
"I'm just an owner," he responded. "I didn't even know that kind of stuff went on."
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