Not too long ago, a picture surfaced of Houston Rockets superstar James Harden looking trim. Harden, known for a muscular nut hefty physique, appeared to have dropped 20 pounds while preparing for the NBA restart. While his frame previously allowed him to dominate opponents offensively, it hasn’t translated to playoff success.
Maybe this is Harden deciding to change things.
But should the burden be placed solely on Harden? After all, basketball is a team sport. And NBA executives and general managers construct team rosters with the intent of winning NBA titles. If we are to blame Harden, does Rockets GM Daryl Morey deserve just as much blame if not more?
Let us evaluate both scenarios.
On Harden’s end, the management built the Rockets around his skillset. The Beard can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court, while strong enough to punish defenders in the lane. And if all else fails, Harden can draw a foul or kick it out to his teammates for a three-point shot. In essence, Harden is the quarterback on the floor: everything goes through him.
But the downfall of the Rockets arguably is that they live and die by two components: Harden and the three-point shot. In the last two seasons, the Golden State Warriors did a great job slowing down Harden, making him earn every point. By the end of each series, Harden’s fatigue could make for a persuasive argument. Game 7 in 2018 Harden went 12-29 from the floor while connecting on 2-13 from three.
In the 2019 NBA Playoffs, he fared better against the Warriors. In the game the Rockets were eliminated in (Game 6); he scored 35 points on 11-25 shooting and 6-15 from three. But it just wasn’t enough.
The Rockets collapsed in Game 6 and 7 against the Warriors, blowing double-digit leads in both contests. But their dismal showing in Game 7 of that year is the most notable, in which the Rockets missed 27 consecutive three-pointers. When the Rockets way works, it works. When it doesn’t, well…
In Morey’s case, he has supplied Harden a more than solid supporting cast over the last few years. Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and capable players such as PJ Tucker and Clint Capella have made the Rockets perennial playoff contenders. The 2018 Rockets finished with the best record in the NBA. And while the 2019 Rockets only was a four seed, they still had a 53-29 record. That’s still worth something.
But maybe, the only knock on Morey is he didn’t supply Harden with more All-Star talent, possibly? Teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers were constructing super teams to contend. On one end, the Warriors parlayed that model into two NBA championships with Kevin Durant. On the other end, the Philadelphia 76ers imploded under pressure. Maybe Morey didn’t want to go after the likes of LeBron James when he was a free agent in 2018. But also perhaps, he could have tried. I’m sure the Warriors don’t have any regrets.
So does it fall on Harden and his post-season burnout? Morey and his lack of building superteams? The answers aren’t that simple, as we see. There are too many scenarios that could accurately place blame. What we do know is this: The Rockets flamed out two years in a row. They had the talent to win the last two years, and Golden State stood in their way. Could it be Morey’s fault or Harden’s? Maybe. If the Rockets don’t succeed in the post-season this go-around, perhaps the answer will be more apparent.