ON A ROLL

Joel Blank: This time, the MVP is James Harden's to lose

Barring a collapse, James Harden will be the MVP. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Hey James: It's yours to lose.

As we put the All-Star Weekend and unofficial midway point of the season behind us, there is still plenty to be decided between now and the end of the regular season— and that doesn't even include the playoffs. With postseason seeding still to be determined, as well as division titles and of course home court advantage, there is a ton to sort out during these final two and a half months of the regular campaign. With all of that uncertainty, there does seem to be one thing that is already decided, and that would be James Harden as your 2017-18 MVP.

The Beard has arguably been the most consistent player in the NBA over the past four seasons. He has twice been runner-up to the MVP trophy, losing to both Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. This season, he has taken it to another level both individually and as a result his team has reaped the benefits. Harden leads the league in scoring at over 31 points per game as well as being No. 1 in points scored, 3-pointers attempted and made, and has the team single-game scoring recored this season with 60 points against the Magic. He is also second in the league in assists per game, ninth in steals and is grabbing 5 rebounds per contest. The face of the Houston Rockets franchise also has the team playing at an all-time regular-season high level. The Rockets have the best record in the NBA and have put together the best regular season record at the All-Star break for a Houston team in franchise history with a 44-13 record. Sure the team added Chris Paul, but CP3 missed 14 of the team's first 15 games and has only played in 39 of the team's 57 contests. Harden has improved his game statistically across the board every year he has been with the Rockets and this year is no exception. He is averaging more points than he has ever averaged in his career, while improving his field goal and 3-point shooting percentage and still shoots over 86% from the free throw line.

Every year, there are always a handful of players that stand out from the rest and are in consideration for the greatest individual award given out in every NBA season. Kyrie Irving and the Celtics got off to a hot start and he was immediately thrown into the discussion. Jimmy Butler has the Minnesota Timberwolves playing at a level that they have not seen in over a decade so he will get some votes. Like it or not, as the greatest player on the planet today, LeBron James has his name in the discussion once again and deserves it with his numbers as impressive as ever, even in his 15th season. That said, those players and their respective teams have had their ups and downs and none of them have been as consistent as the Beard and his boys from H-Town.

The biggest difference between Harden’s previous runner-up MVP campaigns and this season seems to be the hype. When the Beard came in second to Steph Curry, media was constantly talking about how the Warriors were on a pace to be the greatest regular-season team of all time and Curry was making a case for being the greatest shooter in league history. When James was runner-up to Russell Westbrook a year ago, the talk of the basketball world and all the media outlets that follow it was the historic season that Russ put together as he chased the legend of Oscar Robertson and  averaged a triple-double for the season. This year is different as it seems that everyone is talking about the Rockets and giving them a legitimate chance to dethrone the Warriors in the Western Conference and quite possibly win it all. So it seems as if the stars have aligned and there is a new day dawning for James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

So the MVP is James Harden's to lose. The bigger question is, is the NBA title as well? For as good as Harden and the Rockets have been during the regular season, we all know that awards are given for the regular season but legends are defined by the postseason. The beard still has a lot to prove in the playoffs and all eyes will be on him this year to see if he can erase the ghosts of the past and prevent yet another disappointing, premature elimination. The microscope is on, will James Harden pass his "Finals" exam? It's yours to lose Beard, maybe in more ways than one?

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome