THE GODFATHER SPEAKS

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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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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