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.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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