OPPORTUNITY LOST

Here's why MLB may have already blown it

Composite photo by Jack Brame

If the goal for Major League Baseball was to try to destroy its sport - they are knocking this one out of the park.

Remember when baseball was going to usher in the return of team sports? When the game was going to help "heal the country?" The 4th of July was going to have MLB back and demanding the spotlight for the first time in years. Instead, we have billionaire owners and millionaire players arguing how to split billions of dollars in the middle of a global pandemic that has left one in five Americans out of work and over 100,000 Americans dead. What's the saddest part about these "negotiations?" The two sides can't even agree on what they agreed on in March.

I'm not naive enough to think that just because baseball came back on the 4th of July that the sport would be saved and regained the popularity it once had but wouldn't it have been nice to have a positive news story involving the sport for once? Baseball used to be the national pastime - it hasn't been in decades. The average age of an MLB fan is 57. That's up from 52 in 2000. A great way to destroy your sport is to make sure that people either don't care or can't even find it in the first place. The national ratings for baseball continue to go down and do you think that the owners or players even care?

You have plenty of billionaire owners crying poor despite baseball bringing in over 10 billion dollars in revenue. I guess I forgot that apparently if you own an MLB team you are legally required to make money every year. It's fair to even wonder just how many owners even want to play at this point. The players deserve their blame in this too. The MLBPA continues to insist they have already taken pay cuts by agreeing to pro-rated salaries. However, that is simply not true. You aren't going to get paid for games that haven't been played. Why should your employer have to pay you for 162 games of work when we aren't going to have anywhere near that amount of games. Agreeing to a pro-rated salary is not a pay cut. Stop pretending it is one.

Both sides continue to air out their dirty laundry publicly. Why? This isn't an election. The court of public opinion means nothing if we end up with only a gimmicky 50 game season instead of playing at least 82 games. Or even worse - no season at all. How is there no common ground here? How can't both sides realize that playing only a 50 game season when the opportunity was there to play way more games diminishes a true world champion? Do we really need another offseason of asterisk talk?

Regardless of how this story ends, MLB has already blown their golden window of opportunity to grow the sport. Any chance of building up good-will with the fans has evaporated before our eyes. If you thought the damage of the World Series being canceled in 1994 was bad for the popularity of baseball, just wait and see how destructive it will be if there is no season at all. Only this time you won't have a performance-enhanced drug era of the game to save the sport.

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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 Take youtu.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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