Will James Harden mature?

I was watching some old Youtube clips of Steve Francis this past weekend and reflecting back on that dark era in Rockets history.  When he came in, that rookie year, he was just an absolute sensation, viewed as almost a new-age Isiah Thomas.  He couldn’t handle a zone defense or run a fastbreak* to save his life, but we ignored that – he was breaking ankles and making posters, a walking triple-double with one of the most exciting games in the league.  We ignored his flaws assuming he’d mature.  As he had never actually played point guard, it was reasonable to assume he’d learn the position with time.

*Someone always expresses bewilderment upon my making this statement, citing Francis’ catalog of open-court slams.  What I mean when I say Francis couldn’t run the fastbreak is that he didn’t run it in the role of a point guard.  If he was alone, he’d take it in for the slam, which is fine, but if there were any defenders back, his natural inclination was to go to the wings rather than keeping the ball in the middle of the floor as a point guard is taught to do.  This is why it was oh so ironic when he basically described himself as a shooting guard in one of his more infamous quotes, regarding what the team should do with the #1 pick, saying, “With Lamar running the break, and me and Cuttino on the wings, it’s over.”

But of course, he didn’t learn the position or improve.  He eventually was traded for Tracy McGrady while he actually still held value.  The Magic let him play the way he wanted, and his numbers improved, but when they too cut back his role, again his game couldn’t adapt.  Steve just wasn’t a point guard and didn’t know how to be one.  If he wasn’t the focal point of the offense, he couldn’t really bring much to the team.  (I’ve made the comparison to Jeremy Lin many times previously).

This brings me to James Harden.  He’s one of the three or four best scorers in basketball, so good that he basically was able to single-handedly assure a playoff berth in the loaded Western Conference.  But will he ever bend his back on defense?  Will he stop pouting and be a leader? We made excuses for Harden too, like we did for Francis.  2013 was his first as a go-to option, he didn’t have the energy to play both ends.  But then after getting Dwight, things didn’t improve.  His effort levels improved over the season, before reaching ridiculous lows in the playoffs against Portland.  Not giving effort defensively in the postseason is unforgivable.

Harden will be turning 25 this season.  I pointed out recently that 25 was the age at which Tracy McGrady was last considered a true superstar, deeming it a reminder of how short opportunities can last.  Many of you rushed to Harden’s defense, pointing out McGrady’s reliance on athleticism, completely missing my point.  What I’m trying to say is that windows are often shorter than they seem; anything can happen, for any reason, not just injury.  The Wolves didn’t think Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett would clash; the Magic probably didn’t see Shaq leaving Penny behind.  Things happen.

As acknowledged, James Harden’s game will age gracefully.  But will he ever “get it” during Dwight’s prime?  It’s tempting to say Harden’s just 25, giving us a 7-year window, but we actually have a team right now, due to Howard, that can contend.  This team would undoubtedly be better if it weren’t getting a complete ’0′ defensively from one of its wing slots; Howard won’t always be around.  I hope Harden gains some urgency before that window slams shut.  The Rockets can’t control free agency, but they can help themselves in other ways.

 

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Houston Rockets go down in Summer League title game to Sacramento Kings

Don’t even act as if you’ve never admired or felt the urge to admire your own joke.

As the tweet indicated, the local JV guys led most of the way before completely collapsing down the stretch, squandering the title to the Sacramento Kings.  Just playing the odds, this is the closest the Rockets will get to a championship in the next few years, so this one hurt pretty bad.  Well, not really.  But it did hurt having to watch through this game while laying on my couch when other things were on television, most notably anything else.  There were several points where I found myself falling asleep only to rouse myself up once more out of some self-inflicted sense of duty.  Those of you who didn’t watch this – I bit the bullet for everyone; thank me later.

First, Motiejunas: while not filling the box score as he had done in previous nights, the big man did a little of everything, once again showing the tantalizing versatility that has left me confounded over his lack of success.  He scored from the post with running hooks, a baby hook over his opposite shoulder that got wiped out, hit an outside jumper, and drove in on multiple occasions from the three point line.  Most encouragingly, as Chris Finch noted afterward, D-Mo stayed big inside and rotated smartly against incoming opponents.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so invested in a Rockets prospect and relatedly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so confused over a prospect’s lack of success.  Why has D-Mo not panned out?  What is going on here?  This is a legit 7 footer who can score inside with either hand, can put the ball on the floor, and who possesses NBA range (well, sorta) who, by all accounts, is a tireless worker.  He’s added significant weight to his frame since being drafted and made tremendous strides defensively last season, as most famously evidenced by one particular outing against Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies.  I just don’t understand.  If he’s not in the rotation by January, or was shipped away for some worthless conditional second rounder by mid-season, we missed a big opportunity.  Were he to have come over this season, I think he’d have been a lottery lock.  While I empathize with the immediate need to win games, I just think players can’t get comfortable if constantly glancing over at the bench upon each mistake.  So naturally, Motiejunas will likely end up on the Spurs and realize his true NBA destiny, spelling Tim Duncan off the bench in helping San Antonio win the NBA title.  Naturally.

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Epilogue: The Houston Rockets’ Chandler Parsons decision

Sufficient time has elapsed now since the Houston Rockets’ decision to not match the offer sheet signed by Chandler Parsons that I am confident it was the correct course of action.  I guess what they say is true: the passage of time truly does distance emotion.

Regarding Parsons’ earlier comments this week aimed towards the Rockets: Initially, he clearly does not have much of a grasp of the rules within which the Rockets were needing to operate.  They had him “wait around” for Bosh and ‘Melo because exercising his bird rights last was the only way they could make maximum use of the cap space at hand.  Either that point entirely escaped him or he simply couldn’t understand why the team would prefer adding another good player along with keeping him rather than just keeping him and calling it a day.  If its the latter, that’s perhaps an even more damning indictment of Chandler.

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The Red94 Podcast: On Parsons, Rondo

In today’s episode, Forrest Walker and I break down the Parsons decision; the Rajon Rondo trade rumors are also heavily featured.


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Embracing the void

This hasn’t been the best week for the Houston Rockets. Starting with the moment Chandler Parsons signed an offer sheet in a nightclub to the moment the Rockets declined to match that offer, everything that could go wrong seemingly went wrong. What at first looked like risky but positive moves have now culminated in what can only be called a step backwards. It may be in the interest of taking a much larger step forward, but there’s a gap between this Rockets team and the one that stepped off the court in April. There’s a void.

The natural response is to shy from it, to turn away from that void and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s easy to view this week through any number of lenses that ameliorate the unhappy knowledge that there’s a gap. That gap is there whether we look or not, and depending on the outcome of this summer, the void may spread out and negate the entire season. Unless a major move is made, the Rockets have stepped back from even the marginal contention they were at before. There’s no use in ignoring it. The only option left is to acknowledge this void, to embrace it.

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