Harden and company need help for another long playoff run

Rockets on Texans path this season

P.J. Tucker is a key member of the Rockets. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Rockets have been on quite a roll lately after starting the season underachieving. Their best player has been out of this world as they have strung together a couple solid winning streaks and have climbed out of the cellar, straight into first place in their division. Sound familiar Texans fans? The point is, your basketball team is on the same path as your favorite football team and, spoiler alert, it doesn't have a happy ending.

As we all know by now, the Texans ran off nine straight wins after starting 0-3 to become the first team since 1998 to make the playoffs after starting the year with three straight defeats. They ended up winning the division as an added bonus, but were quickly bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts. The team was just good enough to capitalize on a weak schedule and some opponent miscues along the way to turn around their regular season and trick the sports world into believing they were a possible playoff contender. Unfortunately the post season proved to be their truth serum as their weaknesses were exposed and their best players were unable to carry the load, pick up the slack and get them to the promised land. Watson, Watt and company will get plenty of awards and recognition for the great year that they had, but the lack of a complete team made for an end to the season that turned out to be quite sad.

The Rockets have been playing great basketball for the last month and have gone from the second worst record in the Western Conference to a solid playoff team only one game out of homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. James Harden has been on another planet as he has become the leading candidate to win a second consecutive league MVP, while single-handedly carrying his squad night after night with record-breaking stat lines. Harden broke the Rockets record for most 40 point games in a season, including 5 games in a row, and he tied Kobe Bryant for the NBA record for consecutive 30+ point games at 16, after scoring 38 in a loss last night to the Magic. He has done most of the heavy lifting while Chris Paul rehabs another hamstring injury and Eric Gordon rests a knee issue, but how long can he keep it up? A better question might be, even when Gordon and Paul come back, do they have enough firepower to make another run to the Western Conference Finals?

If you answered my last question "no" then you better hope Daryl Morey dives deep into his contact list and starts looking at ways to fill out his rotation and roster and make this team better before it's too late. The main difference between this year and other years, is that the Rockets don't have a surplus of talent on the team that they can afford to part with in order to improve and upgrade the roster. Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker have the most value around the league but the team can ill afford to part ways with either, as they both have stepped u their game and proved to be irreplaceable to Mike D'Antoni and his staff. Gordon has been up and down, but he is better than anyone else they have when it comes to scoring, shooting, defense and versatility. If Morey was to trade Gordon in a package, he would have to get back a Gordon-like player and more to make the trade worthwhile. His latest injury and struggles from the floor this season has made that possibility less and less likely. Tucker on the other hand has become more and more valuable on both ends of the floor and in the lockeroom, to the point that he has become untouchable. The fact that he has been friends with Chris Paul since childhood and is one of Harden's best friends on the squad only adds to the chances that he will remain a member of Red Nation for the rest of the season and beyond. So, if a trade doesn't seem to hold the answers to improving this year's team, what other types of moves could be the boost the squad needs?

The moves that have produced the best return on investment this year have been the savvy free agent pickups like Danuel House Jr. and Austin Rivers. The two have fit right in from the first day and played a style that makes it easy for D' Antoni to trust them and insert them right in the rotation and eventually the starting lineup. I really think the best chance for Houston to catch lightning in a bottle and find a player or two that may be able to strengthen the team by adding depth and talent, is by keeping an eye on the waver wire and potential buyouts of veteran players who are set free to give younger talent a chance to play. Tyson Chandler is a perfect example. He was released by the Suns after negotiating a financial settlement and was picked up by the Lakers to add leadership and depth to their front court. He has been huge for LeBron and company since he joined the Lake Show. Rivers has done similar things for Houston and so has House. Maybe a few more opportunities turning other teams' trash into H-town treasures is the way to go in getting this team Warriors ready and stocked for another run? Let's hope so, otherwise it may be an end to the season eerily similar to the one suffered by the football team down on Kirby just over a week ago.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

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.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome