THE GODFATHER SPEAKS

John Granato: James Harden purgatory update

John Granato: James Harden purgatory update
What do we think of James Harden now? Tim Warner/Getty Images

I’m really torn on what I think about James Harden after these playoffs. I thought this postseason would sway me one way or the other. I’d been saying for years that we will always be in James Harden purgatory - somewhere up there but never in heaven. About midseason I admitted that I was wrong, that James could take us to the promised land. Now I’m not so sure. I’m in limbo which is what purgatory is I guess. So I’m right back where I started. I think.

I’m so confused.

But that’s what James does. He confuses and confounds you then promptly amazes and astounds you. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pick up my phone and tweet about one of his errant passes or lazy defensive efforts or when he just let an inbounds pass bounce right to a Warrior who picked it up and scored easily.

But I stopped myself. And sure enough right after one of his boneheaded plays he’d steal a pass or hit Capella with a sweet alley oop or knock down a big 3 and a tweet that would have made perfect sense would have looked stupid just a couple minutes later.

So where are we on James Harden’s legacy?

I have no idea.

If only Chris Paul hadn’t gotten hurt. With CP3 we know they had enough fire power to win it all. Whether or not they would have is the great unknown. I think they would have. You may not think so. Okay. You’re not wrong either. No one knows for sure.

I do know that he was the yin to James’ yang. He was hot when James was cold. In those crunch times we’ve seen James fold in, CP3 took the reins and guided them to victory - Game 5 against the Jazz when he poured in 41 or Game 4 in Oakland when he brought them back from 12 down in the 4th to even the series at two games apiece.

And that was fine by me. If Chris Paul was the alpha dog and led them to the title, all we’d remember is that they won. James could bathe in the glory of a championship and the monkey would be off his back. They couldn’t have won it without him regardless of his postseason play. It would be idiotic to criticize him any longer because he won. Period.

But that’s not the case. Now all we have is another playoff failure and James has to take his share of the blame for it. In Game 7 he scored 32 but on 29 shots. He was just 2 of 13 from 3 point range and worse yet he didn’t have any answers or leadership in another second half swan dive.

Elimination James is alive and well. It’s not nearly as egregious as last year’s Game 6 against the Spurs or as haphazard as his 11 turnover game in ‘15 but it was still an elimination failure. So the question still remains. Can the Rockets win a title with James Harden? Other questions have to be answered first.

Is an oft-injured Chris Paul a max deal guy and if so for how long?

Do you match whatever for Capella?

Do you upgrade the Trevor Ariza position?

Will anyone take Ryan Anderson’s contract? Please.

Is Gerald Green worth bringing back?

Are you really in the LeBron sweepstakes?

They’re all legitimate issues Daryl Morey has to face this offseason. I think he did a helluva job putting this team together and getting them to the precipice of greatness. All the pieces fit perfectly. If that one spoke didn’t break they could have won the race.

The reality is that that spoke breaks quite often and you have to prepare accordingly. You never want to predict that someone will get injured but history shows that it’s more likely than not for CP3. We also know that James can’t win it alone so there’s got to be more.

If it isn’t LeBron it’s going to have to be someone else.

Paul George? Not likely.

Boogie Cousins? No thanks.

Carmelo Anthony? I’d rather have Boogie.

Most of the other decent possible additions are restricted free agents and they cost too much. So does JJ Reddick.

Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Dirk are too old. Rajon Rondo is a nut job. Marco Belinelli might be a piece that would fit but he’s just a piece.

Good luck Daryl. Should be fun. But he pulled it off last offseason so you never know.

I do know this. I feel better about James right now than I did last year at this time. That’s not a high hurdle though. At this time last year we were all reeling from the Game 6 nightmare.

At least in Game 7 against the Warriors he tried. He spun his wheels but he did try.

He deferred to CP3 against the Jazz and Warriors but I’m OK with that. He did what was best for the team.

All his postseason numbers were worse than his regular season numbers. Took more shots and made fewer. Took more 3’s and made fewer. Scored less per game overall.

So you would think that nothing’s changed and if that’s your attitude then so be it. But I saw something different this year. I’m kind of with Mike D’Antoni on this one. Let’s not discount the 65 wins. Let’s not forget the WCF appearance. Let’s appreciate what will be an MVP season from James.

It all just looked and felt different and if that’s because James had CP3 there leading him towards the water that’s fine. He drank it. And the team was better for it.

I don’t care if James isn’t the alpha in the room. That’s not his thing. Scoring is and he does that better than everyone in the league and because of it they were one half away from the championship round.

We may still be in James Harden purgatory but I know this: the pearly gates ain’t far away.  



 

 






 

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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