END OF AN ERA?

Here's why trading James Harden might be best for everybody

The time may have come to trade James Harden. Composite image by Jack Brame

Was it something Houston said? In the past week, J.J. Watt, the greatest football player in Houston Texans history, made it perfectly clear that he'd rather play his home games elsewhere, preferably with a team contending for a Super Bowl.

At the same time, while the Rockets swear no, chatter persists that James Harden, the No. 1-a (with Hakeem Olajuwon) basketball player in Houston history, may be available in a trade if the price is right.

You know, maybe the Rockets should do it. The Beard has played eight seasons in Houston producing three scoring titles and one MVP, more than $100 million in salary, a $200 million shoe contract, but no Western Conference titles and not a sniff of the NBA Finals.

As a distinguished medical expert once suggested taking a drug proved ineffective against coronavirus … what the hell do you have to lose?

Next season will be a new start for the Rockets, with a new coach, new general manager and possibly a new style of offense. Sure Houston fans get off on James Harden's iso dribble-dribble-dribble 3-pointers and free throw shooting contest, but around the league, fans are falling asleep or clicking the remote.

How about a trade, Harden for 76'ers point guard Ben Simmons and a bunch of first-round draft picks? Sure, that'd be trading one of the most prolific 3-point bombers for someone who's shooting range is "dunk and closer" (a tip of the hat to Charlie Pallilo).

Having Simmons join Russell Westbrook in the Rockets backcourt might be the worst 3-point shooting tandem but a marketing dream. Bill Worrell: "That last shot was brought to you by Acme Brick, 5020 Acorn Street in Houston."

Harden-Simmons isn't only a possible NBA trade, it's a misspelled D3 college in Abilene (Hardin-Simmons).

The Rockets scheme of acquiring superstars (Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard) to pair with Harden hasn't worked. And Harden is on the dirty side of 30. So, yeah, what the hell do they have to lose by trading him?

There happens to be a lovestruck Harden fan in the City of Brotherly Love, former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose desire of spending more time with his family lasted about two weeks. I had the over/under at three days. Ask anybody who works at home these days.

In his farewell to Houston, Morey wrote: "James Harden changed my life. He not only transformed my life but also revolutionized the game of basketball, and continues to do so, like almost no one has before. The game is played differently because of James, and on every playground in the world, the next generation of talent is studying and imitating his game."

Hey, why don't you two get a room? I've seen less romantic Valentine's cards.

Obviously Morey would love to angle a trade for Harden. First, Harden would provide an outside scoring threat to go along with All-Star center Joel Embiid. Perhaps more important, it's only human nature to want to stick it to your former employer. How's that saying go? Hell hath no fury like a general manager scorned.

Here's something the Philadelphia welcome wagon might use to entice Harden: according to Yelp, the Top 5 strip clubs in Philly are Club Risque, Delilah's, Pleasure Garden, Cheerleaders and Cheeks Lounge.

Cheeks Lounge … hilarious.

It's not like the Rockets, as is, will be favorites to win the Western Conference next year. First clue: LeBron James plays in that conference. King James' teams have won their conference nine of the past 10 years. The only year that James' team didn't get to the NBA Finals was 2019, when James was injured and played a career-low 55 games. Also, the Golden State Warriors will have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson back, plus they have the No. 2 draft pick.

That's tough sledding for the Rockets, with or without Harden. Without might be best for everybody.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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