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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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