During a season that looks to be lost for the Houston Rockets, it’s James Harden that basketball fans have written off when they shouldn’t have.
Last season, Harden was named the league’s MVP at the inaugural NBA Players’ Awards due to him single-handedly carrying the Houston Rockets to the Western Conference Finals regardless of how many injuries and issues his team had to fight through. Harden went from an All-Star that possessed the potential of becoming a superstar to the basketball version of John Wick. No matter what came at Harden last season he wiped it off of the windshield each night until he became outgunned and outmanned by the Golden State Warriors. A very respectful season for an overachieving Rockets team and overachieving James Harden.
An opportunity was born for Harden to go into the offseason with a chip on his shoulder. An opportunity to get revenge with Stephen Curry for not only taking his MVP trophy, but ultimately having a possibility to knock the Warriors out of the playoffs the way his Rockets had been only a few months before. It was an opportunity to prove that the year before wasn’t a fluke and that he truly was worthy of being the headline player of the NBA. He was the runner-up for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award and received the same title from the voting of his own peers. What could be better feeling than the rest of the 1% voting you as the king? I mean, this dude was so good that social media had to make up some sort of “curse” from an awful rapper just to explain the inexplicable drop in Harden’s performances.
After motivation being at an all-time high and a tremendous season to sit back and reflect on, it was sweet, sweet summertime. However, James Harden’s summer schedule turned out to be different than you would hope it would for a player with that great of opportunity. The summer broadcasted several TMZ highlights for Harden after finding out he had retrieved an awful case of the Kardashian flu. As a result, Harden had an offseason full of non-basketball distractions that helped pry him away from his profession and bring him into the season out of shape. Harden had bitten the forbidden fruit and it took him nearly the first 20 games to recover from it.
James Harden wasn’t the only one that suffered from the repercussions, but it wasn’t solely Harden’s fault either. His decisions played a hand in getting Kevin McHale fired, starting the season 9-11, and complete roster dysfunction. Casual fans began losing respect for Harden as they watched him recoil into his old habits of being careless with he basketball and representing a revolving door on defense.
After taking 20 games to transform his mind and body, Harden has returned to elite status. Those who watch closely, will notice that James Harden has returned to the individual level that he was at last season. Actually, believe it or not, he’s been a little bit better when you take everything into consideration that he has had to deal with this season — coaching, teammates, awful start, etc. While you certainly can’t give Harden a pass for losing sight of the peak, you can’t continually ride him for things that simply aren’t true (anymore).
We live in a world of instant gratification. Harden went from an MVP candidate to a “bad player” in only months. After a head coach coach was fired, he’s now a “coach killer”. Harden gets murdered on social media after every game that the Rockets have lost this season. He’s approaching Carmelo Anthony territory in some people’s eyes as they think he’ll be a stat guy on a team that can never make any noise. Welcome to 2016. In 2016 if players have a good or bad game it’s either because somebody checked the box score on their phone — rather than watching the actual game — or saw a few loops of a Vine. In 2016, the first instinct that a fan gets is to either roast or boast a player more than they deserve to. You can’t watch and understand a game or season from highlight videos or multi-second clips on social media. For those who watch closely, they’ve noticed (once again) how special of player James Harden has been this season.
It was only last season when Harden took over social media, television, and conversations each night that he played with his riveting performances that were filled with step backs, crossovers, and transition magic — a smaller version of what Curry has been doing this season. Harden is a special, special player and if he’s in the right situation he can be the best player on a championship team. While Houston’s days look to be numbered, it certainly isn’t because of James Harden.
I’ve watched plenty of the Houston games this season to determine that James Harden has to do more for his team over the last two seasons than any player I’ve watched since what LeBron James was doing for Cleveland from 2008-2010. While watching Harden fight off defenders and chuck passes to a 66-year-old Jason Terry. Harden fighting off defenders in the 4th quarter reminds me of King Leonidas in 300 fighting off the immortal without even a millisecond to relax.
Every time that Harden is on the court he’s handling the basketball, running the offense, distributing, rebounding, attacking, leading the league in minutes, etc. Every single possession goes through James Harden’s hands in the fourth quarter. Every. Single. Possession. The defense knows that Harden is getting the basketball when the shot clock is winding down, or when the Rockets are in need a basket and he continues to go to isolation or a high pick-and-roll to feast off of a matchup.
Regardless of the ball-watching defense that has reemerged, James Harden is currently averaging 28.3 PPG, 7.0 APG, 6.4 RPG, and 37.4 minutes per game. In the history of the National Basketball Association the only players to average 28.0 points, 7.0 assists, and 6.0 rebounds through a season are Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and now James Harden.
Harden is literally having one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of the NBA. He’s a one man basketball machine that distributes the ball to his recycled Western Conference Finals teammates as well as anybody in the league. To be honest, he’s only improved his statistics while reaching all of the same marks that he did last season — leading the league in minutes, shots, free throws, and well, turnovers. He’s the same player, but the difference in his roster and total wins suggest that he has declined.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Houston is not the same team they were in the Western Conference Finals. Dwight Howard — who was supposed to be Harden’s side kick for years into the future — would have been shopped at this year’s trade deadline had anybody actually been willing to trade a couple of expiring contracts, their starting big man, a future protected pick, and a can of opened beans.
Wouldn’t it be irritating to be a top three offensive player in the NBA and your center sits there and bitches for the basketball, yet you have to watch him shoot all these free throws because he’s historically bad at them and hasn’t improved since 2004? How are you supposed to get into a rhythm as a team or individual with that much stoppage time? (Which reminds me, why do free throws take 20 minutes in the NBA??)
Quick note: Why wouldn’t Portland take a chance on Howard? Take the car out, see how it feels during a little three month test drive. It makes no sense to me why they didn’t! If he fits up there, great! If he doesn’t then you cut bait at the end of the season and you lose in the first round, or barely miss the playoffs anyways. They aren’t getting out of the first round this season, so what is there to risk?
Daryl Morey really has his hands full this offseason. Here is a current list of his issues he’ll need to address:
2. He traded for Josh Smith after not resigning him in the summer and made himself look like a complete jackass for trading assets back for — wait for it — JOSH SMITH.
3. He needs to find a long term head coach to replace the coach he fired (that should be still coaching). I’m sorry, but J.B. Bickerstaff is not the guy.
4. Congratulations Daryl Morey, the Ty Lawson experiment turned out to be a disaster. You brought in a point guard who loves to shoot midrange shots at a not particularly high percentage and he’s also a complete chemistry blunder/locker room killer/eye sore on the basketball court.
5. The Drunken Dribber, Corey Brewer, officially unofficially leads the league in air balled shots. Yes, believe it. Currently shooting .287% from three point land.
6. The Rockets can’t even trade away players because they fail their physicals and return all of their problems back to Houston.
Where Does Harden Go From Here?
I’m not saying Harden and Houston don’t fit together, but for the sake of this article, I’ll say that Harden needs to be on a new team after this summer because, frankly, it would be good for him and Houston.
Harden is such a talented offensive player that if he were to play on a defensive minded team that allows him to do his thing on the other end, he’ll be successful. My recommendation? Boston.
The Celtics are not only desperate for a scoring threat that isn’t Isaiah Thomas, but they need a closer in the worst way. Harden would be allowed to be James Harden on offense and could turn that roster into one of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. Surrounding Harden with defensive stoppers such as Bradley, Smart, and Crowder would naturally turn Harden into a player that buys in on defense and leads them to many deep postseason runs while being in play for a championship each season.
That being said, it’s too bad James Harden couldn’t have been on a roster with two all-time great scoring players that play perfectly into Harden’s strengths. Those three would probably run their respected conference for a solid decade while everybody else tried to play catch up. (Long Exhale) Am I the only person that is still in disbelief that Oklahoma City traded him?