CHAMPIONSHIP HOPES

Exclusive: Kenny Smith discusses why he believes the Rockets can make a championship run

Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston Rockets haven't played a regular-season game since March 10th. The NBA season was suspended a day later so Rockets fans have had to wait for months for the opportunity to watch their team attempt to go on a championship run.

The question for the Rockets is simple though: Are they good enough to go on a run and contend with the other top teams in the Western Conference?

2x NBA Champion with the Rockets and one of the hosts of Inside the NBA on TNT, Kenny "The Jet" Smith joined SportsMap Radio on The Jake Asman Show and said he believes in the Rockets chances of contending for a title because of the superstar power Houston has with both James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

"This is what Mike D'Antoni envisioned. If he could pick a team, I think he would pick James Harden and Russell Westbrook to run it. The Rockets have the best players on a nightly basis at their positions. Nobody is going to have a better point guard and shooting guard than those two guys. They are always going to have the advantage."

A question that surrounds the Rockets entering the NBA's re-start is the impact that the long layoff and built-in practice time will have on the team's performance? Smith believes that the time off will help the Houston roster gel together after Rockets GM Daryl Morey made several bold moves at the trading deadline to go all-in on playing small-ball.

"I think the layoff also gives players an opportunity to reflect on what they need to do. This is the best team that they could ensemble to play that style."

When asked about his fondest memories of winning two championships with the Rockets, Smith said being part of the cities first-ever championship teams is something that he will never forget.

"Being the first Houston professional franchise to win a championship, I think that is what you remember the most. To be able to unite a city in a different way, to change the name to 'Clutch City' instead of 'Choke City' that to me is probably the most fun."


You can listen to The Jake Asman Show weekdays from 8 AM -10 AM Central on SportsMap Radio.

You can listen to the full interview with Kenny Smith below:

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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