Rockets

Harden, Rockets Have More at Stake Than Just This Season

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Since Daryl Morey traded for James Harden, the Houston Rockets have been considered title contenders. With the relationship between Morey and ownership potentially growing weak after comments made earlier this season, now is the time for this team to reach their ultimate goal before the risk of being torn apart.

How We Got Here

Bringing in James Harden prior to the 2012 season has proven to be Morey’s biggest move and the catalyst for the franchise’s current success. Harden has turned into one of the best players in the league running Mike D’Antoni’s system. And now, Harden is paired with his long-time friend Russell Westbrook for a chance to do what he and Chris Paul could not– win the title.

Right now, the Rockets are a good team that has had great regular-season success, making the playoffs for the last seven seasons. But, fans are salivating at the thought of this team finally reaching the Finals and bringing home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

What’s At Stake

More than just the satisfaction of the fans, the Rockets’ organization needs to see their vision become a reality. For players like Harden and Westbrook, they need rings to prove that they are more than just good players that posted eye-popping stats. D’Antoni has had success with other teams, getting the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals.

Morey is the NBA’s version of Billy Beane, introducing the analytics that have shaped the recent way of thinking and constructing rosters. Without a Finals win to validate things, D’Antoni and Morey may be considered as nothing more than trendsetters.

This group has their legacies to consider as time passes. Whether any of them will admit it or not, it matters. Even if they don’t think about legacies, sports conversations will always be based on winning.

Daryl Morey

As we saw with the recent Last Dance documentary, even the best general manager will only get so much appreciation. In the end, the players and, to a lesser extent, the head coach will earn the recognition. But, Morey himself still likely wants to validate his work with a ring. Since Tilman Fertitta bought the team, he has been very vocal about how he is willing to do anything it takes to win.

After the controversy surrounding Morey’s Hong Kong comments, he was treated like a bit of villain. That situation may have started the beginning of the end in the relationship between Morey and the Rockets. Morey has been successful enough that he will find another job if it comes to that. Leaving Houston after earning the city a title would be a much more palatable farewell, though.

Mike D’Antoni

Coaches are often credited for the success of players and the overall efforts of a team. Phil Jackson is synonymous with the success of the 90’s Bulls and Michael Jordan. D’Antoni has had success getting the most of rosters, but also in elevating good basketball players even further. Harden was already a good player when D’Antoni took over the Rockets, but their marriage saw Harden hit another stratosphere.

In their first season together, Harden averaged nearly a triple-double. Since then, he has won an MVP and led the league in scoring the last three seasons. This is similar to what D’Antoni did for the career of Steve Nash in Phoenix. Nash was already seen as a great player, but in D’Antoni’s offense Nash flourished, winning back-to-back MVPs and leading the league in assists three straight seasons. D’Antoni is known for his ability to produce great offensive teams. But to solidify his legacy, coach needs a championship on his mantle.

Russell Westbrook

After failing to get past the Warriors with Chris Paul as Harden’s running mate, the Rockets decided to trade for Westbrook to try to get over the hump. There is nothing more that Westbrook can do as an individual after winning the 2016-17 MVP. Prior to 2016, only one player had ever posted a season where they averaged a triple-double (Oscar Robertson 1961-62). Westbrook accomplished the feat three straight seasons prior to moving to Space City.

After Kevin Durant left for Golden State, Westbrook earned a level of respect among fans for his loyalty. He was willing to do whatever he could to try to win without giving in and moving to a super team. Morey brought him to team up with Harden and have what may be his best opportunity at a ring. That would be the cherry on top of the Brodie’s great career.

James Harden

In all of this, the individual with the most to lose or gain is James Harden. In my opinion, arguing who is the best based on how many championships an individual won is misguided considering it is a team award. But, I think to enter any kind of “GOAT” conversation, having one championship is at least some sort of cover charge.

Harden has become a mainstay in the MVP conversation recently, and was named the 2017-18 MVP. He has shown the ability to distribute, leading the league in assists in 2016-17, and is on his way to his third scoring title. Harden’s list of accomplishments since arriving in Houston stack up against any player historically. The glaring hole for Harden is the lack of a championship. His commitment and conditioning have been questioned over the last few years.

His defensive effort and his famous stepback have become memes. Things beyond his control, like Chris Paul’s hamstring, have become excuses used against Harden and his ability to get his team to the Finals. A title for the Rockets improves the legacy of his coach, his teammates and the front office. Hoisting the trophy in Orlando this year would do most for the historical place Harden holds in history.

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Clutch City became famous after the efforts of Hakeem the Dream and the back-to-back championships in the 90’s. The hope is that Harden and company can revive that this season and silence some of the stigma around his game.

Never underestimate the heart of a champion. Maybe the Beard drops that legendary quote at the parade.

Follow us on Twitter @RocketsLead for the latest Rockets news and insight.

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About Martin Marroquin

Spent some time in the military but decided that nuclear power was less interesting than sports. Fan of anything Houston, the greatest city in the world.

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