Disclaimer: This isn’t an article with a lot of detailed, bloated stats that no one cares about that is followed by references of other players who accomplished similar stats. For instance, so and so scores x amount more points when they have breakfast after 9 a.m. as opposed to 8 a.m. The only other player to average 30 PPG while eating breakfast after 8 a.m. was Michael Jeffrey Jordan during the Bulls’ 96 season. Instead, this post is a basic observation of basketball. One of the simplest games known to men. The one where you throw the ball in the basket more times than the people trying to stop you.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the point — James Harden X Mike D’antoni. These two are the Houston Rockets’ gift and curse. We had no shot before they got here, and the illusion of a shot since they’ve been here. Why is this? Arrogance. No way around it. We all know D’antoni has a style of play that doesn’t produce championships. You can look back over his career and highlight all the would have, could have moments you can muster. The bottom line is he hasn’t won.
D’antoni has produced a lot of memorable losers in his career. We all remember the run-and-gun Suns and that Rockets team that was a game seven away from knocking off the powerhouse Warriors once upon a time ago. What do those teams have in common? A fluky offense that D’antoni refused to alter. And that seems to be the case going into the 2019-20 season.
The Rockets added superstar and former MVP Russell Westbrook to the mix to replace the lack of production they got from Chris Paul (the Rocket’s 2019 scapegoat) in last year’s playoffs. With the world tuned in to preseason games to see if the Rockets were worth the hype, they saw more of the same. Harden isolated on the wing, dribbling the air out of the ball before passing it off late in the shot clock to a teammate who is forced to throw up a bad shot.
The negative impact this had on the Rockets’ offense was made even more obvious than it was in years prior when Paul was on the squad because he was a superior shooter. Now, Westbrook is relegated to standing around watching Harden do what he wants. When Westbrook does get the ball, he is so pressed to make a play he forces plays even more than he did playing in Oklahoma, but this time for a different reason – not knowing when he is going to get the ball back! Oh, the irony.
This reality led to a preseason in which Westbrook finished with more turnovers than field goals made. Wow. How bad do you have to perform to pull that off? Bad enough to where, right on que, the Westbrook criticisms of recklessness, limited shooting abilities and a host of others surfaced before the regular season even tipped off.
If you’re one of the people who has criticized Westbrook since he has been in a Rockets’ uniform, I’m here to tell you it’s not him; it’s Harden. Harden has no one to hold him accountable, challenge him or tell him the truth. The one about how his style of play is now hindering the team. Yes, D’antoni should tell him. Yes, he should add more movement into the offense. Yes, he shouldn’t let Harden run the team, but he does. That’s where Harden comes in. Why does your coach have to tell you to pass the ball at this point in your career? Why does your coach have to tell you not to stand around and look uninterested when you don’t have the ball in your hands?
At a certain point, you must stop falling for the okey doke. The one where we let Harden’s brilliance and the lack of production from those around him make us believe he doesn’t have help. He does, and plenty of it, but it’s on him to allow them to help. If Harden and D’antoni don’t look in the mirror, and quick, this season could be over before it starts.
I’ve heard the word sacrifice come from Harden many times during the offseason, but I have yet to see any. Harden’s talents are other worldly and will for sure get him into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but will they be enough to overcome his selfishness and win him a championship? History tells us no. So as you prepare for the upcoming season, be sure to pay close attention to Harden. Whether or not he really wants to win or be a stats guy will be made vividly clear this year. Either he figures it out and breaks the Rockets’ championship drought, or the team implodes in historic fashion at the deadline.
I’m praying he figures it out and wins. I’ll gladly eat my serving of crow. But I’m not holding my breath.