Back in November, only a total homer would’ve said the Rockets would make the playoffs this year and that Harden would be widely acclaimed as a top-10 player. Even after the trade, I was thinking more along the lines of 36 wins and, for Harden, a reputation along the lines of how O.J. Mayo is currently perceived.
Back in October, my definition of success for this year would’ve been some factor of the number of Rocket rookies making the All-Rookie team. Now we’re scoreboard watching and not for the purpose of moving up from the #14 pick.
It’s crazy to think we’re here because it rarely works out so well. You can only get so much luck. Only so many things can go right. But somehow the stars aligned and the Rockets hit grand slams with the Harden trade, the Asik signing, and the strategy to re-create the offense around analytically inclined principles. Parsons developed beyond anyone’s expectations and Jeremy Lin, for the most part, justified his signing.
The beauty of this berth, as I’ve been saying all year, is that the team actually has a nucleus. Had the team made it last year, it really wouldn’t have meant much. Those guys weren’t coming back so nothing would’ve been gained. But this year, its different. Some combination of Harden, Lin, Asik, and Parsons will be around for the long haul. After they bow out, they’ll know in the summer what they need to work on. They’ll get closer. If they’re stomped, they’ll draw upon that experience in coming years. That’s what it means to have a nucleus and to build chemistry through experience. The Rockets, after years of treating the roster like a stock index have finally reached the point where intangible considerations can play a role.
- Kobe and Wade over Harden in ESPN’s NBARank can make sense, for different reasons, but I don’t know how Russell Westbrook can in any way be considered the 5th best player in basketball or even considered better than Tony Parker. Westbrook’s supporters will defend him to the death, but in my opinion, if its a close playoff game, in the 4th quarter, he’s not even on my short list of point guards I want at the helm running my team, not after the number of times he’s completely melted down and made the wrong decisions in previous games.
- For what it’s worth, I have Harden at 7th behind, in this order, James-Durant-Paul-Parker-Kobe-Wade.
- The thing most fascinating is that out of the nine best players in the NBA, none are big men. We’ve really reached this point.
- Can you believe the Houston Rockets actually have a top-10 player again? That still hasn’t even sunk in yet completely after what it took to get here, from Bosh never returning the Ipad to Dwightmare last summer.
- Speaking of Dwightmare, what increases the odds of Howard leaving this summer? The Lakers missing the playoffs entirely or the Lakers making it, but getting ousted in the first round?
- Right now, Houston sits at 7th, and if the postseason were to begin today, would open at Oklahoma City. ‘6’ sounds nice, but I want no part of Denver who seems to not have lost a step after the injury to Galinari. As strange as it may sound, I would actually prefer meeting the Spurs or the Thunder over facing the Nuggets. The Spurs have proven in previous years that experience does not equate to invincibility and with Ginobili out and Parker hobbled, are ripe for the picking. Asik handles Duncan well and Harden historically has San Antonio’s number. As for the Thunder, it would simply make for an amazing story for The Bearded One to return to his stomping grounds. The human pride factor alone would give Houston a fighting chance.
- The Clippers are in a freefall and in danger of even falling to #5, having gone just 5-5 in their last 10 games. Had you asked me a few months ago, I would have told you that Chris Paul returning long-term to L.A. was a virtual lock. Now, I’m not so sure. I’d actually say that Paul leaving seems like a greater bet than Howard departing from the Lakers. Why? Because unlike Howard, Paul is deeply and solely committed to winning. I keep thinking back to a game a few weeks back between Dallas and the Clippers where the Mavericks essentially took the game by simply doubling Paul every time he touched the ball in overtime. No one else on L.A. had a chance of doing anything, even playing 5 against 4. If the Clippers get ousted in similar fashion this postseason in the first round, and the Rockets either win their first round series or are competitive (with Harden averaging 30+), I really could see a snowball’s chance of Paul turning down the money to come to Houston. I could see it. He strikes me as one of the only guys who would turn down the money for winning.
- Would Paul fit with Harden? Not nearly as well as a Howard-Harden pairing would work, but it’s a case where you sign first and figure it out later. Both players are so uniquely intelligent that they’d figure out how to make it work, despite both needing the ball, just like Lebron James and Dwyane Wade were able to do.
- Can we get some love for Kevin McHale? I haven’t seen him even on any short lists for Coach of the Year, an honor for which he at least should be in the running. I haven’t agreed with all of his decisions, but the job he’s done in leading the youngest roster in the league to the postseason is undeniable. It’s not easy to win in this league, especially with players who have never been there. You don’t understand how big a difference experience makes in this league until you see how clueless some of the rookies look on the defensive end at times. I think the biggest obstacle, and what people don’t understand, is how hard it was to lose someone like Patterson. When you look at Patterson, you just see a guy with limited upside who doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. I was one of the biggest proponents of giving time to the rookies and I still think it was a smart trade. But you don’t understand why coaches stick with a guy like Pat until you see the ‘deer in the headlights’ look on the faces of guys like Motiejunas after a blown assignment. That ‘look’ is the reason why coaches have their security blankets. They can deal with a lot of things, but nothing is more frustrating than poor interior defense and blown assignments. Fans don’t see this. They see guys like Jordan Hill and Stromile Swift grabbing rebounds and blocking shots, but they don’t understand how these players have a negative impact in the aggregate because of their mental lapses on ordinary plays. McHale overcoming the loss of Patterson, with no veteran replacements, stands as his greatest accomplishment.