Houston Rockets superstars James Harden and Russell Westbrook were not on the team’s Thursday flight to Orlando for the restart of the 2019-20 season, as first reported by The Athletic‘s Shams Charania.
No reason was given for the absence of the All-Star backcourt, and both former MVPs are expected to join the team “in the near future.”
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported that in addition to Harden and Westbrook, newcomer Luc Mbah a Moute and player development coach John Lucas were also not on the flight.
Harden and Westbrook were not made available in recent team media sessions, which began in July once individual workouts (for healthy players) became mandatory at Toyota Center. Robert Covington, Austin Rivers, and Eric Gordon were the only players to speak on the Zoom calls.
Can confirm that James Harden and Russell Westbrook were not on the flight to Orlando, per source. Luc Mbah a Moute and player development coach John Lucas also did not fly with the team. https://t.co/mzgSnLL894
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) July 9, 2020
Rockets forward Thabo Sefolosha, who opted out of playing in Florida, said last weekend that some of his teammates had tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). However, he did not identify who, how many, or how recently. For medical privacy reasons, NBA teams are not required to report any individual player’s COVID-19 diagnosis.
If those positive tests were recent, that could be a potential explanation for any player who isn’t initially with his team in Orlando, since the NBA required players to test negative in the days just prior to travel. Cases of COVID-19 have surged around Houston in recent weeks.
There could also be many other reasons for not being on the team flight. The Los Angeles Clippers, for example, are reportedly allowing superstar Kawhi Leonard to arrive a few days late while dealing with a family matter. Any player who does not fly on the charter must test negative three times for COVID-19 before traveling later to Orlando.
The players and coaches on the Rockets who did make Thursday’s flight to Florida will have their first team practice on Saturday. Harden, Westbrook, and Mbah a Moute will join at a later date.
All still have sufficient time to get there before Houston’s 2019-20 regular season resumes on Friday, July 31 vs. Dallas.
Sources: The NBA has informed teams that a player will not be allowed to travel with team to Orlando if he misses coronavirus test on one of two days before travel date (July 7-9). Player would then have to register three consecutive negative tests before traveling.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 4, 2020