I’ve done some thinking in the last 15 or so hours since this morning’s post and I have some new thoughts. But first, some housekeeping: some of you found my prior comments objectionable, intimating that my comments were misguided and that the team should only be addressed with pride. While I respect differing opinions, I find this to be an invalid line of reasoning.
One can be a fan and feel pride for a team while still recognizing flaws and areas in need of improvement. The two events aren’t mutually exclusive. Just like a mother loves her young child unconditionally and views his development, his first words and first steps, as her life’s pride, so do I feel a sense of pride in this team’s success this season in overcoming adversity and coming together as the youngest roster in the league; but just as that mother feels disappointment and concern when the child errs, I too find alarm in spectacles like last night’s. In neither event does the concern diminish the pride and it is because of the pride that the concern is born.
It was critical to face the Spurs not just for the reason that we stood a better chance, but because of the ramifications. A competitive showing, or even a series victory (of course), would have raised public perception regarding the team. As we know, perception is everything. This would have been key in the summer during free agency. The Rockets hope to sell themselves to some lucky superstar that with him in place, they would be ready to seriously contend. If they’re blown out in 4 by the Thunder, that pitch won’t go too well. And adding a superstar is the single greatest step for improvement that this team can make.
While perhaps not having the upside of convincing someone like a Howard or Paul to sign after a victory over San Antonio, there is a silver lining to facing the Thunder. You see, aside from the fact that James Harden historically has had his way with the Spurs, he really doesn’t have anything personal at stake against them. If the Rockets had lost such a series, and Harden had shot around 40%, one could speculate that it might not have been a big deal to him. Nothing against Harden, but like 99% of other people, he’s not a guy that’s driven internally by basketball. Basketball is not his life – it’s a part of his life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and it’s the norm. It just means that, like Lebron after that embarrassment against the Mavs, Harden needs some external nudge.
That’s not the case against the Thunder. Against the Thunder, it’s personal. These were his guys. They were supposed to rule the league for the next 10 years. But instead, management decided they preferred Ibaka and Westbrook with the money they had. Even worse, after he was willing to give a discount, they wouldn’t even give him a trade kicker to extend trust.
If Harden loses at the hands of the Thunder, I think he’ll take it personally. I think the humiliation would drive him. Losing to the Thunder would seem, while not true, an affirmation that they didn’t need him. (The only way that would prove to be the case would be if OKC went on to beat the Heat.) If the Thunder go on and lose again to the Heat, that’s just a rendition of the default. For Harden, the only way he can actually prove his old team made a mistake is by beating them himself. If he loses, I think it will drive him. I think you’d see the 23-year-old come back next year with a more lethal arsenal. Perhaps a floater or a postgame or something for the midrange (likely to the chagrin of his bosses.) Losing to the Thunder could do a world of good for James Harden.