Point Blank

Joel Blank: Would Harden be able to embrace being the second fiddle to LeBron James?

James Harden likes being The Man. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Now that the NBA season is over and the Golden State Warriors are once again champions, Rockets fans are left to think about what could have been if Chris Paul was healthy for Games 6 and 7. Red Nation is now focused on the possibility of Lebron James coming to Houston and getting them back on top of the basketball world for the first time in over 23 years. Sure, it’s fun to dream, but how realistic are the chances that the King comes a calling and is he worth gutting the rest of the roster? After all, this years' team set a franchise record for wins and had the best record in the league. A bigger question might be; would James Harden give up his top dog status to play Robin to Lebron's Batman?

Ever since James Harden got to Houston, it's been his team. To be more specific, it has been his franchise. He has had everything and everyone in the organization at his beck and call. Every billboard is the Beard, every commercial is centered on number 13 and every move is made with him in mind. Even getting Chris Paul here was the doing of the MVP candidate. What makes any of you think he is willing to give all that up and worse yet, turn the keys over to a guy he has had his issues with in the past in Lebron? Is possibly winning a title enough to give up control of the locker room, the franchise and to some degree, the city? Only time will tell but it’s definitely worth keeping in the back of your mind as the free agent fun prepares to begin.

You may be thinking that Harden already did it once when the team traded for CP3, but looking at how the season played out it was still Harden who took center stage. He just had a proven leader to hand off to when times got tough or the situation called for it. Paul was even gracious enough to take a half step back and make sure that everyone understood it was still Harden's squad. It might be a different story if the greatest player of the last 15 years of NBA basketball came to town? Lebron James doesn't take a back seat to anyone, why would he take one for Harden?

For all the improvements we have seen in Harden's maturity level and as good as he has gotten at embracing all the expectations and demands of being "the man," he still has a ways to go before he is in the rarefied air of James and Michael Jordan. We are all too familiar with Harden's playoff shortcomings and how they don’t come close to the legendary postseason performances of the King, including three rings and eight straight Finals appearances. For all the shortcomings when the stakes are highest, the Beard's ego is all-world and he loves every minute of it.

The truth is, Harden has never been willing to give up his pedestal to anyone since he got to Houston— not for Dwight Howard, Daryl Morey or even Chris Paul. He likes having the keys to the car and we all know he loves to drive. The real question now is, will he become a back seat driver if it means getting the first NBA title of his career? We shall see. Getting James to take a step back might prove to be more difficult than trying to get a team to actually take Ryan Anderson in a trade this summer.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome