THE BEARD'S TIME COULD BE RUNNING OUT

Here's what the Rockets must consider before pulling the trigger on a James Harden trade

James Harden Rockets
Composite image by Brandon Strange.

In recent reports, there have been multiple rumors that the 76ers could make a push for James Harden if they can sign Mike D' Antoni as their head coach. As the 76ers fired Brett Brown in August, they are now looking for a culture change. So, it won't come as a surprise if the 76ers try to trade Joel Embiid for Harden. Hopefully, Daryl Morey recognizes the talent of Harden and rejects the idea of trading him.

Harden is easily the second greatest Rocket of in franchise history, including being second in scoring. In Harden's eight-year tenure with the Rockets, he has become an NBA MVP, made the All-NBA team seven times, three-time scoring champ, and an eight-time All-Star. Harden's resume with the Rockets is impressive, including going to Western Conference Finals twice. Ever since Harden came to Houston in 2012, he revamped the Rockets' franchise with eight consecutive playoff runs. Before Harden came to the Rockets, this franchise had missed the playoffs three times in a row.

Harden also attracted huge free agents like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, which helped him succeed in his Rockets tenure. He has made the Rockets an attractive team to play on since being in Houston for eight years.

Even though Harden has been great with the Rockets, he has not reached the Finals yet. That has been the huge question mark on Harden's resume while playing for the Rockets. Honestly, there are certain moments when Harden has disappeared in big games. In 2015 versus the Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Semifinals, Harden shot 5 of 20 from the field, and was benched in the 4th quarter by Kevin McHale, as the Rockets were led by Josh Smith to force a Game 7 in Houston. Also, during the Spurs-Rockets Western Semifinals of 2017, Harden had another disappearance in Game 6. Harden shot 2 of 11 from the field with only 10 points as the Rockets lost to the Spurs 114-75 without Kawhi Leonard.

Despite those two horrible examples, Harden was extremely close in 2018 versus the Warriors but an injury to Paul's hamstring stopped the Rockets' momentum, as they lost in game 7 by missing 22 straight three-pointers. The following year, the Rockets lost to the Warriors again without Kevin Durant because Paul and Harden were not on the same page in the Western Semifinals. Things were not different this year, as the Rockets were overpowered by the Lakers 4-1.

Trading the 32-year-old Harden could be tempting because of the recent playoff failures, but he is a generational player. In the last 5 years, Harden has dominated the NBA with his elite scoring. Harden has averaged over 30 plus points per game in the last three seasons. He is also classified as one of the greatest scorers of all-time behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Wilt Chamberlin.

Stephen A. Smith lays out why he thinks Harden is the greatest scorer currently in the NBA in the video below.

James Harden is 'the greatest scorer in the NBA' - Stephen A. | First Takeyoutu.be

After all the things Harden has accomplished in Houston, is he still untouchable? Honestly, if Harden is traded, the culture for the Rockets will drastically change, especially with new players coming to Houston. In my opinion, Harden and Morey are very close but Morey is blinded by his own decisions because of Harden. Morey built this team around James and does anything to please him. He wanted to keep D'Antoni around because of Harden, which is not helpful for the Rockets. If the Rockets are going to win big, Morey has to be stronger with his own judgement of the team, and not Harden's.

If the Rockets decided to trade James Harden to the 76ers, they could receive Embiid and Josh Richardson, which is still good. The Rockets would get a big man, who is a superstar, and a great wing defender, which gave Harden problems two years when he played for the Heat. This would not be bad decision if the Rockets decided to move on from Harden.

Before Morey decides to pull the trigger, he needs to digest Harden's accolades, including his shortcomings. Hopefully, the right decision is made for the Rockets' organization.

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Astros beat the Nationals, 5-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Justin Verlander allowed two runs and four hits over six innings to win his season debut for the Houston Astros, 5-3 over the Washington Nationals on Friday night.

The 41-year-old right-hander, who began the season on the injured list because of right shoulder inflammation, struck out four and walked none, throwing 50 of 78 pitches for strikes in his 258th win.

“He looked really good," Astros manager Joe Espada said. "Efficient, threw a ton of strikes.”

Verlander (1-0) averaged 94.3 mph with 35 four-seam fastballs and induced five groundouts. The nine-time All-Star retired the side in order four times and improved to 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in five regular-season starts against the Nationals.

Ildemaro Vargas hit an RBI single in the third and Riley Adams homered in the fourth, cutting Washington’s deficit to 4-2.

Verlander had made a pair of minor league injury rehabilitation starts.

He retired his first eight batters before Adams doubled off the base of the wall in right-center field.

“Yeah, pleasantly surprised, honestly," Verlander said. “I kind of tried to cram spring training into three starts and control wasn’t quite what I would have liked. The rehab starts and then just look at mechanics and try to find something to make it click. I think what I worked on between last start and this start, just being a little more directional.”

Verlander was 13-8 with a 3.22 ERA last year for the New York Mets and Houston, who acquired him ahead of the trade deadline. Espada was hopeful Verlander could key an early season turnaround.

“It’s very important," Espada said. "Despite how we started, it’s a long journey. we need him to lead us through this season. We have been in this before. We just got to be patient, continue to fight and once this rotation gets healthy and we start hitting our stride it’s going to be fun.”

Josh Hader allowed Jesse Winker's sacrifice fly in the ninth and got his second save, striking out his final two batters.

Houston (7-14) stole five bases and stopped a three-game losing streak. Jeremy Peña and Mauricio Dubón had three hits each, Yainer Diaz doubled twice, and Kyle Tucker doubled, singled, walked twice and stole two bases.

Washington manager Dave Martinez was ejected by plate umpire Cory Blaser for arguing a caught stealing call against Vargas that ended the eighth. The Nationals are celebrating the fifth anniversary of their 2019 World Series win over Houston in seven games.

MacKenzie Gore (2-1) allowed three runs and seven hits in four innings.

“Frustrating," Gore said. "But it was kind of one of those things where it wasn’t bad. We had a chance. I thought the bullpen was really good again. I just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t terrible. I just need to be a little better.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Espada says LHP Framber Valdez played catch Friday and felt well. Espada expects Valdez to throw a bullpen session of 30-40 pitches this weekend.

UP NEXT

RHP Ronel Blanco (2-0, 0.86) starts Saturday for Houston against RHP Trevor Williams (2-0, 3.45).

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