Making the playoffs or not, the Houston Rockets, with the concept that puts James Harden at the heart of this team, aren’t going to win a championship or even come close. Everything happening now is just basketball redundancy. A team wrongly put together, with players that can’t wait for it all to fall apart, and go their separate ways.
The Rockets can still win games. The way the NBA is, and the way the game of basketball is, having Harden, for all of his flaws, along with some useful players and a has-been great center like Dwight Howard can get you into the postseason, just barely, even in the Western conference. But the Rockets were all about adding piece by piece to become a championship team, not find themselves battling to make the playoffs.
Harden was at his worse in the 125-109 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, which dropped the Rockets to 33-33, tied with the Dallas Mavericks at 8th in the West, just a bit over the inconsistent Utah Jazz below the black line. He shot just 2-of-14 from the field. The Rockets were actually coming off three consecutive wins, but nothing good lasts with this team. Not random defensive displays that look good. Not surprising acts of chemistry and camaraderie. Sometimes it’s simply Harden doing his thing. For all the bad things one can say and write about him, he has his days, either by getting to the foul line for an inexplicable amount of free throws, or simply by doing what players do in the NBA: Shoot a lot and score.
But what does this team have in its future? Howard isn’t staying, which isn’t a bad thing, but unlike two years ago, it’s no longer the free agency attraction it once was. Players aren’t fighting to play next to Harden and for Daryl Morey, who is like a looming figure over any head coach who comes to work for this team. That, and trying to make Harden, much like it’s always said about Russell Westbrook on Harden’s former team the Oklahoma City Thunder, into a player that even when he isn’t scoring, helps the team out, while at least looking like he’s trying on defense.
This season feels like an early playoff exit at best. It’s surprising that a team that looked to be going the right way got derailed by making its best playoff run in almost 20 years. That conference finals against the Warriors should have been another stepping stone towards becoming a title team built around one of the biggest stars in the NBA. Instead, it showed all the reasons why Harden is a step behind the truly best players in the NBA, and why probably a team built around his talent and more importantly personality isn’t going to grant him and his teammates a title ring.