Potpourri for August 4, 2014

  • One thing I’ve always found odd is the flurry of questions regarding the medical exception upon injury to a star player.  “How much do they get?”  “What are their options?”  “Will the Pacers land Shawn Marion?”  This is not to point fault at news providers whose job it is to provide such information.  But why do fans even care?  This happened after Yao Ming was ruled out for the season, as well.  Upon news like that, you just pray for the player and start planning for the future.  Short-term contingencies are of little relevance in the grand or even immediate scheme.
  • You have to really feel for the Pacers who, essentially in the span of mere months, lost their three best players with whatever happened to Hibbert, Stephenson’s departure, and now this injury to George.  This time last year, Indiana appeared poised to remain a mainstay in the Eastern Conference over the next half-decade.  Now, it remains to be seen how they’ll even move forward.  And what about the East?  I hope Carmelo Anthony makes good use of the extra money he pocketed by staying in New York, because he would have had a guaranteed path to the Finals for some time had he left to Chicago.  Now, Cleveland looks like it has the inside track.

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See what I did there? Couldn’t resist! Now that everyone has had a chance to simmer down slightly, let’s attempt to have a somewhat rational conversation about what has recently transpired.

Harden’s quote

He shouldn’t have said it. Regardless of how truthful the statement is, almost all people would agree that it was better left unsaid. Human beings are fascinating and fickle creatures. For some reason we can be perfectly content with knowing something, but blow a gasket when someone has the temerity to say what we all know. When deconstructed, this behavior seems strange, even hypocritical. Nevertheless, for the purposes of maintaining relationships, it is a social and professional code to which everyone adheres.

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The problem with Parsons

Daryl Morey runs the Houston Rockets like a fantasy league. That’s one of the rallying cries of Morey’s detractors, along with other bon mots like, “he treats players like assets” and “Houston has a crisis of leadership. The problem isn’t that the detractors are wrong. The problem is that they’re probably onto something, and it just bit the Rockets in the backside. But why it all blew up? “Why” is the most important question of all, and it’s been lost in the shuffle. The why is something fans of NBA video games have known about for years. The why is staring us in the face.

There’s a reason that Courtney Lee and Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry and now Chandler Parsons have found other homes. It’s also the same reason that Ish Smith and Jeff Adrien and Joey Dorsey are back in Houston. In the end, it’s a problem born out not of failure, but of the hazards of success. It’s a problem that plagues every would-be dynasty in an NBA 2K association mode. It’s the intersection of personal pride, talent evaluation, player development and the salary cap.It’s the video game problem, and it’s not going to stop any time soon.

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On May 12, 1996, the Houston Rockets were swept by the Seattle SuperSonics.

It was a hard-fought sweep. Seattle blew Houston out 108-75 in Game 1, but won the rest of their games by single digits. In Game 4, Houston rallied from being down 18 points in the 4th, and 9 points with less than 2 minutes left, to tie the game and force overtime. But Seattle prevailed 114-107, and a sweep is still a sweep.

It was Seattle’s 13th straight victory over the Rockets.

In addition, Seattle had also beaten Houston in a tight 7-game series in the 1993 Western Conference Finals – a game which it should be noted had some controversial calls at the end. And as great as the two Houston championship runs were, they did not face Seattle in either year. Both times, the Sonics were upset in the first round of the playoffs, in 1994 as the number one seed. While it is impossible to know for certain, it could be argued that things might have been different if the Rockets had faced Seattle in those two years.

How did Seattle stymie the Rockets so badly? How did the Rockets respond? And with today’s Rockets built around another (albeit inferior) post player, what possible implications are there for the present? [read more…]

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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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