James Harden is the NBA MVP. Tim Warner/Getty Images
The Rockets’ season didn’t end the way they had hoped. General manager Daryl Morey had gone on record saying they were “obsessed” with beating the Warriors. They reached the Western Conference Finals against their arch nemesis and took a 3-2 lead. At the end of Game 5, however, Chris Paul’s hamstring gave out. The injury prevented him from finishing the game and kept him out of Games 6 and 7.
Some fans, and pundits alike, considered their season a failure. The “Elimination James” crowd was loud and clear in voicing their displeasure. I had gone on record saying the season was a failure because they didn’t beat the Warriors, which was their stated purpose. I believe they would’ve beaten the Cavs or Celtics in the NBA Finals, but it was the Warriors that posed the greatest test.
There was a time when Craig Shelton and I used to do Hustletown Sports on ESPN 97.5. When we did that show, one of his main points about the Rockets not being able to win was the fact that he believed Harden doesn’t possess “championship DNA.” That is a term encompassing mental toughness, the clutch gene, and killer instinct amongst other things. Craig coining this term actually went back to our previous stint at another station back in 2015. I was slow to jump on that bandwagon, but didn’t hesitate after his 13 turnover performance against the Warriors that same year. I always wanted to believe in Harden and that he’d help bring a title back to Houston. But that thought seemed more and more fleeting as the years went by.
Enter Chris Paul. Paul was traded for after he opted into the final year of his contract. The Clippers had become a toxic situation. Paul wanted out, and the Rockets needed more star power if they were to topple the league’s bully. I doubted that the Harden/Paul tandem would work. After all, Harden had become the point guard for the team, and Paul has established himself as a surefire Hall Of Famer at the position. Mike D’Antoni would have a job on his hands.
Low and behold, they won a franchise record 65 games, and now Harden has been named league MVP. I won’t bore you with his stats, but here’s a link if you need a refresher. This season was truly remarkable. Harden managed to play with Paul and killed the notion they couldn’t play together. With that, Harden also shook the stigma of not being able to play alongside other stars. People thought the Rockets would be “their” team, but Harden made it clear it’s “his” team. Paul is the Robin and Alfred to Harden’s Batman.
I’m happy for Harden, as should everyone who considers themselves a Rockets fan. Sure they fell short of the ultimate mark, but the ride was fun. It’s like riding in a limo to a dentist appointment. Sure you’re going to get teeth pulled, but the ride there was nice right? This only adds to Harden’s legacy. He will be a Hall Of Famer when his career is said and done, barring catastrophic injury. This was another notch in the belt, another stop on the highway to basketball immortality. In the MVP race he’s been a groomsmen, now he’s finally the groom. Let’s hope the next notch on his belt is hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
While most of the Astros roster is returning for the 2024 season, there are still some areas of uncertainty for the club. Astros manager Joe Espada will have some tough decisions to make in his first season managing the team.
The Astros infield is set, so we know who will be playing on a nightly basis, assuming health. The outfield is where things get tricky. Espada told the Houston Chronicle last week that he hopes to play Alvarez more in left field this season, which would open up the DH spot for Chas McCormick and players he would like to rest while keeping their bat in the lineup (Yainer Diaz, Jose Altuve, etc).
Astros GM Dana Brown would like to see if Jake Meyers can hit well enough to play regularly in center field. This is a team that stresses defense, which Meyers provides. But if defense is the top priority, wouldn't that mean Chas McCormick should play left field with Yordan Alvarez hitting in the DH spot?
Certainly, there will be nights when that's the case. The reality of the situation is all these guys are going to play, but how much and where is yet to be seen.
Houston plays 20 games in 21 days to start the season, so it's not going to take long to see if Meyers is providing enough offense to play regularly. If we get into the month of May and Meyers is an offensive liability in the lineup, we won't be surprised if his playing time starts to decrease. But by how much?
Don't miss the video as we examine how Joe Espada will deploy his outfielders and get the most out of the DH this season!
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