James Harden is proficient at many things – he has a myriad of transition and half-court moves that allow him to score at will and he gets fouled on drives incessantly, putting the opposing team in foul trouble and allowing him to shoot charity stripe shots that he makes 86 percent of the time – but despite his production it’s evident that his play does not directly translate to team success.
His contentious relationship with star teammate Dwight Howard has been referred to by a team representative as “cordially bad,” a description that could aptly describe their team’s season as well. Despite the Rockets' talent on paper, and coming off of a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2015, the team finished a regrettable 41-41.
After the season, Harden acknowledged the team’s deficiencies, saying: “We had too many distractions, a bumpy road this entire season.”
Harden leads the league in minutes played per game and is third in the league in usage rate for this season, so it’s clear that his play could arguably affect his team’s performance more than any other player in the league. To go along with his notoriously dreadful defense, Harden also set an NBA record for turnovers this season with 370. Harden still, as indicated by his comments, does not blame himself specifically for the team’s shortcomings.
Former Rockets player Robert Reid, who played with the team for 10 seasons during the ’70s and ‘80s, contends, however, that the onus for the distractions that Harden acknowledges – the onus for the bumpy road that he cites – ultimately falls directly on Harden’s shoulders.
“Monday through Wednesday, the team goes through their offensive plays. First option, second option […] when we had the Twin Towers, here’s what we’re going to do,” Reid told KHOU-TV. “But come game night [they] have one guy holding the ball and the others are like ‘Where are we going to have dinner at tonight?’
“Harden is a tremendous player, but he’s not bringing it for his team,” Reid said. “I’m sorry but I’m just going to say it: Harden looks after Harden.”
Reid goes on to challenge – almost demand – the new Head Coach of the Rockets to force Harden to change his singular style of play.
“The new coach that they bring in here is the one that's going to have to say, ‘I'm the one who gets fired if we don't win, not you. Do you feel lucky? Because your happy-jack behind will be at the end of the bench until you come to this game that we want to play.'
With the impending departure of free agent All-Star Center Dwight Howard, expect Harden’s aforementioned usage rate to increase next season – unless the new coach heeds to Reid’s advice.
Whether or not Harden can adapt his craft to help his team remains to be seen, but if this season is any indication, he will have to in order for the Rockets to return to relevancy.