How the NBA Draft could impact a divisive Houston Rockets homecoming
I've been hearing the rumors. Been watching the chatter online. Been perusing the conversations. Gauging the interest, or lack thereof. Things have been quite polarizing when it comes to the subject: Do fans want James Harden back with the Houston Rockets? It's sort of split between the section of fans who are impatient and want to win again as soon as possible, and the fans who are patient and want the team to continue to rebuild around the young stars. When I heard this, it got me to thinking:
The fans who want Harden back are almost consistently tired of losing. They feel bringing Harden back will propel this roster into playoff contention immediately. One of the things they bring to the table is this team's need for a true point guard. Harden has transformed his game to be one of the best playmakers in the league. He's averaged seven or more assists per game every year since the 2014-15 season. Of those nine seasons, he's averaged 10 or more four times. This group thinks Harden can be the missing link between this team making the playoffs.
The people who don't want him back speak about his attitude and professionalism. They don't want someone like Harden having a bad influence on the young roster. If his poor habits rub off on them, they're afraid choking in the playoffs, partying, and being too nonchalant will negatively impact the kids. Harden also isn't the player he used to be. He's never been a top-notch athlete, but he's also going to be 34 when next season starts. Mother Nature and Father Time are undefeated (LeBron James is still fighting that theory).
With the talent they have now, cap space to sign a top free agent outright, and another top draft pick coming, this team is set up to do good things. But what if they don't get a top two pick? What if they miss out on Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson? Now what? Will Harden still be a viable option? I think he would. He loves it here. Still has a house and investments here in Houston. Missing out on those prized rookies would set them back some, but there's other talent in this draft. Those top two guys are potential franchise altering players, especially Wemby. Not getting one or the other would hurt, but not as bad as we tend to think. I think it'll put them a season or two behind schedule, meaning they'll make the playoffs after next season instead of making it next season.
As far as attracting other free agents, not getting Harden would be better in my opinion. He's not the type of guy other players are clamoring to play with. He is more of a playmaker now, but has a reputation that's made him more pariah than messiah. Things may change when those players look at Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun. The biggest attraction would actually be adding Wemby or Scoot without Harden. Any vet would kill to play with that many young kids eager and ready. It's why Harden is looking to come back himself.
Bottom line, I don't like the prospect of a Harden reunion. Another vet or two that has a better work ethic and rep would be ideal. Truly, one who's not going to come in and think it's his team. Harden will undoubtedly think it's his team. The type of free agents to bring in will need to be able to allow the future of this franchise to grow and aid in that process. I don't see Harden as being that type of guy. If Kelly Iko's inkling and what ESPN Houston's Joel Blank has heard are both correct, there's a strong chance of this happening. If it does or doesn't, I only hope better times are ahead for this team. The fans deserve better.