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

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.

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Justin Verlander will start for the Astros on Friday night. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (22-28, third in the AL West) vs. Oakland Athletics (21-31, fourth in the AL West)

Oakland, California; Friday, 9:40 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Justin Verlander (2-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts); Athletics: Ross Stripling (1-8, 5.19 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 32 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -170, Athletics +142; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Oakland Athletics begin a three-game series at home against the Houston Astros on Friday.

Oakland has a 21-31 record overall and a 12-14 record in home games. The Athletics have hit 65 total home runs to rank third in the AL.

Houston is 22-28 overall and 8-13 in road games. The Astros have a 13-4 record in games when they did not allow a home run.

The teams match up Friday for the fifth time this season. The Astros lead the season series 4-0.

TOP PERFORMERS: Brent Rooker has 11 home runs, 17 walks and 32 RBI while hitting .286 for the Athletics. Max Schuemann is 12-for-35 with a double and two RBI over the past 10 games.

Kyle Tucker leads Houston with 17 home runs while slugging .638. Alex Bregman is 9-for-38 with three home runs and six RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Athletics: 2-8, .225 batting average, 5.25 ERA, outscored by 27 runs

Astros: 7-3, .272 batting average, 3.13 ERA, outscored opponents by 20 runs

INJURIES: Athletics: Esteury Ruiz: 10-Day IL (wrist), Darell Hernaiz: 60-Day IL (ankle), Alex Wood: 15-Day IL (rotator cuff), Paul Blackburn: 15-Day IL (foot), Joseph Boyle: 15-Day IL (back), Freddy Tarnok: 60-Day IL (hip), Luis Medina: 60-Day IL (knee), Sean Newcomb: 60-Day IL (knee), Aledmys Diaz: 60-Day IL (calf), Miguel Andujar: 10-Day IL (knee), Ken Waldichuk: 60-Day IL (elbow), Trevor Gott: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jose Urquidy: 15-Day IL (forearm), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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