A Houston Rockets insider gave us some context behind controversial James Harden rumors

A Houston Rockets insider gave us some context behind controversial James Harden rumors
Should the Rockets bring back James Harden? Composite image by Brandon Strange.
Rockets shrug off setbacks behind Harden's continued dominance

James Harden returning to the Houston Rockets next year is such a crazy, loony, makes-no-sense idea that I’m now 100-percent convinced it’s gonna happen.

Remember, we’re talking about James Harden and the Houston Rockets, two forces of nature that haven’t made a lot of sense in recent years.

I asked a Rockets insider, why would Harden want back here, and why would the team want him back? Didn’t they have a messy divorce just two years ago, with Harden practically sabotaging the team to force a trade to the Brooklyn Nets?

“I guess (Rockets owner) Tilman Fertitta figures Harden would draw attention to the team, sell some tickets and they’d win a few more games. I can’t think of any other reason,” the insider said.

The Rockets currently are 13-49, on their way to the distinction of being the worst team in the NBA for the third consecutive year. The Rockets are like the Richard Farina novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.

Maybe Harden would sell tickets – and the Rockets wouldn’t have to offer bargain-basement deals to entice fans to Toyota Center. Like Wednesday night for example: a quesadilla and a beverage (beer, soda or water) for “just $29!” You can imagine Fertitta doing his best Ron Popeil imitation – “just $29!” If you crunch the numbers, and subtract the quesadilla and beer, the Rockets are practically giving away NBA games at “one low, low price of under five bucks!”

To watch the Rockets get blown out by the Memphis Grizzlies, a title contender with exciting superstar Ja Morant.

Would it make sense for the Rockets to bring back Harden, who likely would ask for a max four-year contract worth $201 million? The Beard will be 34 next season.

Why not? Last year the Rockets paid John Wall $44 million to not play.

It’s not a secret, and hasn’t been one for several months, that Harden is considering coming back to the Rockets, where he spent eight sensational, high-scoring, controversial seasons. He made eight All-Star teams, won three NBA scoring titles and one MVP award.

He allegedly also pulled stunts like forcing the team to stay an extra day in certain cities so he could party and hang out with friends. He reportedly was given days off from practice so he could travel to Las Vegas on a private jet. TMZ reported that one night, after a disastrous playoff performance and Rockets loss, Harden went to a strip club where patrons chanted “MVP” at him.

Fertitta has a personal fondness for Harden. After the Rockets traded Harden to Brooklyn, Fertitta told him, “You're always welcome back here.”

Harden loves Houston, pure and simple. Last year, while wearing a jersey that said Brooklyn on the front, Harden said this about Houston: “My family is here, my mom, my sister, my brother, so this is the place I would call home. I feel like this city deserves for me to still put my stamp on it even though I’m no longer playing here. I’ve got to find ways to continue to do that, and I will.”

One way would be to sign with the Rockets at the end of this season.

Meanwhile, after demanding to leave Houston, and shortly after demanding to leave Brooklyn, Harden is playing for the ‘76ers who are serious title contenders. Harden is having an excellent season despite missing some games from injury. He is averaging 21.6 points while leading the NBA in assists with 10.7 per game. Wonder what his teammates think about Harden and rumors that he wants back in Houston?

This wouldn’t be the first time that the Rockets have brought in a veteran star. In recent years, they’ve signed Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and others. How’d those signings work out? Not so good – and it was Harden who contributed to their unhappy endings.

If Harden does return to the Rockets, which Harden would we be getting: the megastar ball hog or the now more mature and co-starring playmaker?

Before the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, team captain Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked if he was going to pick “the Dribbler (Harden)?” The Greek Freak’s answer: “I want somebody who’s going to pass the ball.” Antetokounmpo wound up taking Kemba Walker over Harden that game.

That was then. This is now – Harden has MVP candidate Joel Embiid and other veterans to pass to. If he plays for Houston next year, he’ll be joining a team currently comprised of rookies, first and second-year players who have done nothing but losing in their pro careers. Plus the Rockets have three first-round picks in the 2023 draft. So Harden would be taking the court with a young team projecting to be even younger. He would be the team’s undisputed star and T-shirt seller, though. At least the marketing department would have something to promote: James Harden and the Pips

Is Harden a changed man who can show these young’uns how to be a professional?

For the past 10 years, Harden has talked about his hunger for an NBA championship. The team he’s with now, the 76ers, have a legit shot at a ring this year and next. The Rockets aren’t contenders and likely won’t be for a few more seasons at the earliest.

Harden surely won’t be coming to Houston for the money. While the Rockets could offer him $201 million over four years, the 76ers can up that to $272 million over five years.

It’s not like Harden needs the money. He’s already the fifth highest-paid player in NBA history with earnings of $268.6 million. Add another $201 or $272 for his next contract, plus his $200 million shoe deal and other endorsements and investments, and Harden will walk away from basketball on his way toward being a billionaire.

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Cristian Javier is in better shape this season. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.

Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).

Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.

But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.

In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.

Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.

The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.

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