TIME TO APOLOGIZE

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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Let's make a deal. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The NFL trade deadline is less than a week away, and the Houston Texans have a significant decision to make regarding their franchise star, J.J. Watt. The Texans are 1-6 through the first seven games of the season, and the next few years of the franchise seem a bit bleak.

No player or staff member has encapsulated Houston's frustration quite like Watt. Excluding the Texans' victory over the Jaguars, the future Hall of Famer has looked miserable in every post-game press conference. Each week, it's the constant look of despair. And in hindsight, closing the chapter on Watt's career in Houston seems to be best for both parties.

At 31-years-old, the All-Pro defensive tackle should be spending the twilight of his career competing for Super Bowls — not playing for a team who is clearly about to hit the reset button at the conclusion of this season.

By departing from Watt, it would allow the Texans to get a jumpstart on their rebuilding project — one that has the potential to bring back quality draft picks, a young prospect, and clear close to $20 million in cap space.

If they decide not to move on from Watt, the Texans risk putting themselves in a situation where they may miss out on obtaining higher draft picks and strapped for cash heading into the 2021 free agency market. And with one year left on his contract following 2020, the Texans also risk losing leverage in a potential deal if forced into trading Watt come next season.

At this stage of his career, the Texans may not receive a haul for Watt's services but could maximize his trade value by dealing him to a championship-contending team. A move that would give Watt the best chances of adding a championship title to his luxurious resume in return.

With the future of the franchise in mind, here are three potential trade ideas that would be best if the Texans are truly considering moving on from Watt.

Watt returns home to Wisconsin and joins the Packers

Texans receive: 2021 first-round pick and LB Kamal Martin

Packer receive: J.J. Watt

The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams who has a realistic chance to stamp their ticket to Super Bowl LV. Following a win over the Texans on Sunday, the Packers stand first in the NFC North with a 5-1 record and possess one of the NFL's best offensive teams.

Green Bay's offense can compete in a shootout with just about any team in the league, but their defense may be the reason why they fall short of representing the NFC in Tampa Bay come February. They have only accumulated a total of 10 quarterback hits and are currently 30th in the league in pass rush through the first six games. The Packers' lack of ability to get to the opposing team's quarterback could be an immense problem during a playoff game that could feature Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson.

So what do the Packers have to lose by acquiring their Wisconsin native?

The addition of Watt would allow the Packers to add one of the best pass rushers of all-time. Although Watt is nowhere near the player that finished second behind Aaron Rogers for league MVP honors in 2015, he has illustrated that he is still a disruptive defensive lineman five years later.

Through the first seven games, Watt has accounted for 11 pressures, six quarterback hits and three sacks — which would make him Green Bay's second most reliable pass rusher trailing only Za'Darius Smith.

For the Texans, receiving a first-round pick for Watt is self-explanatory and would be the most suitable return for the aging star. However, for a team that is building for the future, the Texans should consider obtaining a young and raw prospect to evaluate.

Kamal Martin, a fifth-round draft selection in 2020, made his NFL debut against the Texans on Sunday and left an exceptional first impression. He recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss in 29 snaps inside NRG Stadium, and could be a building block should the Texans begin to make modifications to their linebacking corps.

Seattle sends multiple draft picks for Watt

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and fourth-round pick

Seahawks receive: J.J. Watt

If the Packers do not take advantage of improving their pass rush with Watt — perhaps the Seattle Seahawks will. Both NFC teams mirror each other with a high-powered offense, but a feeble defense may hinder one another from advancing to the Super Bowl. In a deal for Watt to the Seahawks, the Texans would miss out on the chance to acquire a first-rounder, but obtaining multiple picks would be just as prominent.

Seattle's general manager John Schneider is no stranger to taking a significant risk, and appears willing to make any moves that will put his organization closer to their long-overdue second title with Russell Wilson. Perhaps, Watt would be that missing key.

The Seahawks are pretty solid at stopping the run but need a tremendous upgrade in their pass defense. Seattle has given up the second-most passing yards on the season (2,212), and the reason seems to be their inability to get to the quarterback. Seattle has only implemented pressure to the opposing team's quarterback on 20.1% of their dropbacks, while only recording a total of nine sacks.

The Seahawks pass defense may not become elite, but the disruption of Watt on their defensive line could be enough to limit the devastation they have experienced through the first seven weeks of the season.

Watt to the Big Easy for Brees' last dance

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and Marcus Davenport

Saints receive: J.J. Watt

Seven weeks into the season, the New Orleans Saints are not sitting near the top of the NFC nor their division when compared to recent years. A bevy of injuries have been attributed to their minor decline this season — mainly to their All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas.

However, the Saints have prevailed through the injury bug to march their way to a 4-2 record. If New Orleans can get healthy during the second half of the season, they will be in the running to represent the NFC in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV. But unlike the Packers and Seahawks, this could be the Saints last chance to recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy in what is likely Drew Brees' last dance.

The addition of Watt to the Saints would give general manager Mickey Loomis a chance to create the most disruptive defensive line in the league. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would be able to shift the five-time Pro-Bowler to the interior — allowing the Saints to trot out a d-line of Watt, Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson.

This trade would give Watt arguably the most help he has ever had on the defensive line — which would allow New Orleans to maximize what is left of his career.

This trade would have the Texans missing out on obtaining a first-rounder, but a sound-round pick would be just as valuable for Watt. However, Houston should consider adding a young prospect in a potential swap, and Marcus Davenport would be their best return.

Drafted in 2018, Davenport is a former first-round talent who can help transition the Texans into the post-Watt era. He has showed promise of a bright future through his first two seasons, but injuries have prevented the 24-year-old prodigy of San Antonio from establishing himself as one of the league's top young talents.

This season, elbow and toe injuries have limited Davenport to just a pair of games in 2020. Although there is an immense concern regarding Davenport's health, the Texans cannot pass on adding a player who has already registered 11.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits through his first 28 career games.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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