Counterpoint: how holding on to James Harden might pay off for Rockets

Good things come to those that wait. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I'm sure by now most of you are aware of the saga surrounding the Rockets and their enigmatic star James Harden. If you aren't, here's a quick rundown: The Rockets failed to re-sign the coach (Mike D'Antoni) who allowed Harden to become a ball-hogging MVP candidate; they parted ways with the general manager (Darryl Morey) who allowed Harden to run the franchise; when they didn't hire the coach he wanted, he decided to demand a trade and list several contenders in the Eastern Conference who he'd like to play for.

Everyone seems to have an opinion as to what the Rockets should do with Harden. Some say trade him and get what you can, some say keep him, others are so done with the whole thing they've become indifferent. I fall in the middle because I want them to keep him, but trade him later. One of my colleague's here at SportsMap, Zach Allen, wrote that he feels they should trade Harden ASAP. I disagree, and here's why:

Harden has no leverage

He's under contract this year and two more after that, although the 2022-2023 season has a player option he likely wouldn't exercise. If he decides to sit out games and practices, he can be fined. This would only make things more contentious with the Rockets and further damage his already off-putting reputation around the league. When Anthony Davis did this when he wanted out of New Orleans, he had a rep for being a good guy. People took it as he wanted out of a bad situation and wanted to find himself in a winning organization. If Harden were to do the same, which seems like he's already doing, it will make him seem more malcontent and diva-ish than he's already perceived to be.

With the offseason additions the Rockets have made, they have some pieces in place to be a playoff team. How far up the ladder can they climb in the uber competitive West? I'd say their ceiling is 3rd seed and their floor is either the 8thseed or just missing out on the playoffs. That said, Harden may start to play with and buy into the system new coach Stephen Silas has going. If he sees the potential in this roster to win, he stays. If not, he could come in and play at his typical high level, elevating his value, then allowing the Rockets to trade him to the highest bidder. The only thing would be selling everyone on the fact that Harden is here to stay for the long haul. The media will be asking those questions often of everyone in the organization. Everyone would have to be on the same page as far as answers are concerned.

While I highly doubt Harden is going to stick around Houston much longer, I'd much rather see the organization take their time in finding the best deal for them moving forward as opposed to bending over for the first offer they get. Trading him ASAP doesn't work because his value wasn't high to begin with given his style of play and dropped with his recent actions and demands. Wait it out. Create the illusion he's staying. Drum up interest and get the highest price you can for him. And remember, Harden doesn't have the leverage he thinks he does. Stay woke.

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DeMeco Ryans feels like the perfect fit. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

There’s one big difference between the Houston Texans and the Canadian Mounties.

The Mounties always get their man. The Texans not so much. That’s how second and third (and desperation) choices like David Culley, who never even was a coordinator in his nearly 30-year NFL career, and Lovie Smith, whose top credential for the job was being in the building, got to be Texans head coaches the past two years. Both of whom were one and done – summarily fired after disheartening, aimless seasons.

But that all changes with the imminent hiring of 38-year-old DeMeco Ryans as Texans head coach. An announcement could come any moment.

With one bold stroke, the Texans will be cleaning up a mess that took years to fester. Ryans is the perfect candidate for the job. He was drafted out of Alabama by the Texans in 2006 and became Defensive Rookie of the Year and All-Pro linebacker. He played six years in Houston when, lest we forget, the Texans developed into a winning team bound for the playoffs.

After retiring in 2017, Ryans became a successful coach with the San Francisco 49ers, rising quickly from defensive quality control to inside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator the past two seasons. This year, the 49ers had the stingiest defense in the league with the fewest points and yards allowed. They allowed their opponents to score on less than 25 percent of their drives – far and away the best performance in the NFL.

The Texans want Ryans and Ryans, who was the hottest head coach candidate on several teams’ wish list, wants the Texans. He’s reportedly said no thanks to the Denver Broncos, a team which appears to have a faster track to rebuilding than the Texans. Contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s classic novel, Ryans believes that you can go home again.

Ryans will accomplish some immediate fixes for the Texans – like bringing respectability to the franchise and soothing wounds with the fan base. The team desperately needs a kick in its image. As recently as five years ago, the Texans were selling out every home game at NRG Stadium with tens of thousands of home-viewing fans wishin’ and hopin’ to buy season tickets.

Then came Bill O’Brien, criminally one-sided trades (in the wrong direction), a divisive and unpopular executive with the owner’s ear, the Deshaun Watson scandal, two head coaches plucked off the scrap heap, and losing … lots and lots of losing. The Texans finished their recent season with three wins and the undisputed crown of most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL.

The jewel of that damning crown was winning a game they needed to lose to guarantee the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. You’d think that losing would be the easiest thing for the Texans. It’s sort of become their thing.

Not only did they win, they did it the hard way, by going for two in the last minute of their last game and winning by a single point. By winning they forfeited their unobstructed and worry-free path to drafting the quarterback of their choosing. Who thinks to do that? Now they have to wait to see what the Chicago Bears will do with the No. 1 pick.

Ryans will require time, probably a few years at least, to restore the Texans to the ranks of playoff contenders. In blunt terms, the Texans currently stink. They won three games in 2022 after back-to-back four-win seasons. On defense, they were 27th in points allowed. They were 31st in rushing yards allowed. On offense, 31st in yards per game, 31st in rushing, and 31st in third down conversions. There’s only 32 teams in the NFL.

Of course you can cherry pick stats to make a team look good or bad. With the Texans, they’re all bad.

Their returning starting quarterback won’t be starting next season. That’s the plan, anyway. The Texans are expected to draft quarterbacks Bryce Young of Alabama, C.J. Stroud of Ohio State or Will Levis of Kentucky with their No. 2 pick. The Texans may sign a free agent veteran signal caller or trade for one.

And start from scratch. Again. At least this time with a coach that brings hope back to Houston.

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