Love him or hate him, you can't deny James Harden's greatness anymore

The Beard: Credit where credit is due

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Every NBA season for the past 4 or 5 years, the Harden hate picks up steam and rolls like a barrel downhill. For James Harden, it's inescapable, no matter what he does, including winning an NBA MVP award. The critics come from out of the woodwork and spread like wildfire. Locally, nationally and on social media, everyone wants to take shots at unlucky 13. It started with his inability to play defense and continued with his selfish, ball hog mentality of an offensive style that was predicated by isolating while over dribbling. The narrative this year is that he is drawing too many fouls, taking advantage of the system, getting too many calls and taking far too many shots to get his numbers. "Scoring ugly" is now a huge negative and the number one knock on the leading scorer in the entire league. No matter what he does he can't escape the critics and the criticism, but after this current streak of torid scoring and dead eye shooting, isn't it time to start giving the man the credit he deserves?

I get it, there have been reasons in the past to criticize James and to poke holes at a player that has put up big regular season numbers and statistics since he came to H-town only to fail miserably in the playoffs. The post season shortcomings are not going away anytime soon, at least not until he takes this Houston team to places they haven't seen since the title teams of 1994 and 1995. Until the Rockets win a Western Conference title and at least compete for another championship, the number one target for the naysayers is going to be the best player on the team. To be fair, a lot of the criticism has been deserved and earned based on his past performances, like his record setting turnover game against the Warriors in the West finals a few years ago and the disappearing act against the Spurs two years ago. Undoing those knocks on "Unlucky 13" is going to take some time and will require some success that he hasn't had since he was the sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Melo experiment failed, Ariza and Luc walked and CP3 took the money and wanted to run it back, but once again his hamstrings won't let him. The losses started piling up and the critics were lining up to take their shots and write the Rockets off. Just when you thought it was safe to sink the ship, the Beard has put the team on his shoulders and carried this team right back in the thick of things in the West. James Harden has been a savior this season and all the haters better think long and hard about where their favorite team would be right now if not for the MVP and SWAG champ.

The numbers speak for themselves and the results cannot be argued. James Harden has scored 30+ points in the last nine games where he has averaged 40.6 points during the run. He has led the team to four straight victories since Paul went out with his latest hamstring injury and is putting up 42.3 since CP3 went down. His three straight 40+ point games matches Moses Malone for the longest streak in franchise history. His seventh consecutive 35+ point games is the 11th longest scoring run in NBA history and his 35+ point, 5 assist run over those same seven games ties Oscar Robertson for the longest stretch in league history. More important to Houston fans, the team has won 9 of 10, is in first place in the division and they have climbed all the way back to the fifth spot in the Western Conference standings, one half game out of the top four. Without the beard, your season would already be over and you would be looking forward to what moves could be made to right the ship for next year. Harden has been nothing short of phenomenal as he has singlehandedly brought this squad back from the depths of the dead. You can skewer the roster and go over the box scores with a fine toothed comb, it won't matter, you won't find any other factor that's even close.

Let's give the man his due and the credit he deserves people! Don't hate the player, hate the game and the rules that go with it. Are you mad at Harden or angered by the fact that at least one player has mastered the rules and made the ability to draw a foul an art form? From offensive efficiency, stat stuffing a box score every game, prolific scoring and the ability to get to the free throw line, the beard has taken his game and the league to levels we haven't seen before. Harden has matured and learned to tune out the noise and just play his game. He has even started to own the hate, embracing the criticism while continuing to do what he does on a nightly basis. He is speaking with more confidence as he gives himself props as a front runner for another MVP award while letting the world know he will not let up and plans on doing this the rest of the year. Basketball purests and NBA experts say he can't keep this up for an entire season, but who's to say he can't prove everyone wrong and keep doing what he has been doing for the first 35 games? Hopefully he won't have to as Paul will return at some point, as will members of the supporting cast that has been dinged up as well. Even if the cavalry comes to the rescue there are no signs that the Lone Ranger has any plans to ease up, slow down or stop powering forward. Houston, praise your superstar and be thankful he is wearing your team's uniform and tune out the hate of the rest of the hoop world. Haters gonna hate, Harden's gonna keep on being great.

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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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