It has been proven over the two seasons in which James Harden and Jeremy Lin have been teammates that there are rare moments the two can co-exist on the floor and bring out the best in each other, but most of the time it’s more like a one way street. The question is – what’s best for the Houston Rockets?
Because as much as hoping to see Jeremy Lin succeed in his career and fulfill the potential he has shown from time to time, usually in short bursts for various reasons, the Rockets aren’t about the advancement of his career. Nor should they be about James Harden, although they seem to be going in the wrong direction with that one, putting his talents and considerable ego above what’s best for the team.
There are four teams that stand out in the NBA and should be considered the biggest championship contenders: The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs.
No one builds and no one plays like the Spurs in the NBA, but in a copycat league you’d think more teams would try and go for that model: Make it about personality, and trying to piece things together, thinking about the long run, and not necessarily clinging on to superstars. Sure, Tim Duncan is a rare breed, one in a generation, but the Spurs don’t play smart basketball, the most fun to watch in the league on most nights despite the ‘boring Spurs’ label that is widely outdated, just because of Duncan.
There’s the Miami Heat way. Putting together a super team with LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade to reach three NBA finals in three years, winning two titles. That is something everyone wants to copy because of the financial implications. This isn’t just about winning, but it creates a huge buzz even for a team outside the biggest TV markets in the league. The problem with copying Miami? You won’t have three superstars of this level. You can’t, because it means having someone like Chris Bosh as a third player. People sometimes forget how good Bosh is as a leading man. Think something along the lines of LaMarcus Aldridge, more or less. Maybe slightly inferior offensively, but much better defensively.
Then you have the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yes, they have their two stars who are comparable to James and Wade and maybe even better than them by now, but that’s pure luck. They had that trio with Harden, who didn’t want being the third guy, while the Thunder (we’ll now if they made the right decision or not only when they win/don’t win the NBA championship) decided they need to give up on someone, preferring to pay big money to Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. There’s no genius behind building the Thunder, mostly draft luck.
The Pacers? They’ve also been mostly built through the draft, but constructing a team that’s mostly known for its defense and doesn’t have a superstar isn’t something most teams are fond of. It takes time, patience, and might not be what creates a buzz until you actually see them succeed.
It’s clear what the Rockets want. Not the smart basketball, not the patient building. They want winning now, and with stars all around. That’s why Jeremy Lin is marginalized. Well not just that – McHale seems to have an actual disliking to seeing Lin playing the point guard position in the way it’s supposed to be played. Lin hasn’t been at his best over the last three games, but that’s beside the point. Basketball at its best should be played the way the Spurs do it, not one on one basketball with someone dribbling out the clock and taking the game entirely on himself without thinking twice. That’s twice as true when that person isn’t as talented as he seems to think he is.
Maybe Lin is the next Steve Nash. He has the passing vision, and there’s time to improve as a three-point shooter, something that is vital in the Rockets’ “system”. However, unless something very strange happens in the next few weeks, the Rockets aren’t suddenly going to change their ways and give Lin the keys to the offense.
For Lin to become a great NBA point guard which he can be, it’s going to take a team that believes in him, and makes him a point guard in a system that favors sharing the ball and not Hero-Ball which Harden is known for. Will the Rockets be better off without Lin? It’s hard to say, although they usually look better with him handling offensive duties AND playing with the better players on the team, not just the second unit. As always, right and wrong isn’t just our decision to make, but usually comes up in hindsight, and how well the Rockets do with and without him will determine what was the right approach.