John Granato: Sorry, James Harden and the Rockets -- I was wrong

James Harden has raised his game. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I would like to formally apologize to everyone who is involved in the Rockets organization, maybe not Tilman Fertitta, he wasn’t the owner when I made my now regrettable proclamation. But everyone else deserves my deepest regrets.

After each of the last three seasons I have proclaimed that the Rockets are in James Harden purgatory. James is a great player and has been for a while but he hasn’t been good enough or focused enough to lead them to the promised land. They weren’t in NBA hell and they weren’t  in NBA heaven. They were floating somewhere in between.

Right now though they seem to be knocking on the pearly gates and I never thought that would happen.

I’ve stated emphatically more than a few times that the Rockets would never win a championship with James Harden. They obviously haven’t proven me wrong yet but I’m now a believer in James and the organization. I’m all in on this team. I’m all in on James.  

It’s certainly not all on James. Every superstar needs help. The GOAT Michael Jordan didn’t win his first NBA title until his seventh season. He didn’t have enough around him until then. As little credit as Michael would like to give him, it was GM Jerry Krause who put the pieces in place for their historic run.

Which leads us to the job that Daryl Morey has done this season. No one has tinkered more than Daryl trying to find the perfect combination of players that will mesh with James. It isn’t easy. Every GM is at the mercy of the marketplace. Every offseason they look at who is available at what price and are they the right fit for what we’re trying to do?

This offseason it all came together with Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute but it was Daryl who still had to identify them, find the cap room, convince the players to come here and sign them. It’s always hit or miss. This offseason was not a hit. It was a grand slam.

These pieces all fit. Sometimes they don’t (see: Corey Brewer). These do, especially Chris Paul. Go figure, adding a Hall of Fame point guard can improve your team. I will admit that I wasn’t convinced that he was the perfect fit here. James loves to have the ball in his hands as does Paul. I thought at some point they’d literally be fist fighting at midcourt. Couldn’t have been more wrong there either.

Chris makes James better in every way. He just seems more focused. He just seems to care more about the ball. He just seems more urgent.

Dare I say it, he almost seems likeable.

To me Harden has been the least likeable star in this city. Altuve? J.J.? Correa? Verlander? Deshaun? In my mind James comes in behind all of them on the likeability scale. If we’ve learned anything lately it’s that we really don’t know what sports stars are really like.  We didn’t know anything about Tiger Woods until all his transgressions were exposed. There’s no reason to think our guys are shady but James does have some stink on him.

  • His run-in with Moses Malone Jr. None of us are sure exactly what happened but it’s a bad look.

  • His yacht commercial. We know you have money James. We don’t care.

  • His nightlife reputation. I’m the last one to criticize anyone’s partying habits but there are a lot more people who care if James succeeds than if I do.

  • Elimination James. This is the most egregious and the one that will be the biggest obstacle to overcome. The evidence is accumulating: the ‘12 Finals, game 5 of the ‘15 WCF and game 6 vs the Spurs last year. He’s got to play better in the biggest games. He can’t play any worse.

But 2018 James has me thinking that he’s changed somehow. Whether it’s just his demeanor, his attitude, how much more he seems to care about winning, how much more he’s taking care of the ball, how much more defense he’s playing, I don’t know what it is but he just seems different to me.

And I hope that he proves me wrong. These Rockets can win it all and to me that’s all that matters. Will they? I don’t know. Even with home court advantage they will be an underdog to a healthy Warriors team. But there’s no shame in losing to them. You can call that a losers’ mentality but I call it fate.

There have been great teams that came along at the wrong time and ran into historically great teams. That doesn’t mean they weren’t great themselves. The Luv Ya Blue Oilers who were foiled by the Steelers and the Stockton-Malone Jazz who were stonewalled by the Bulls and would have been champions in almost any other era. They were great teams. They just don’t have the hardware to prove it.

I’m not saying this Rockets team won’t beat the Warriors and I’m not making any excuses for them. I’m just saying I was wrong. They can win a championship with James Harden. I’m just not sure they will.


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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