A note on the 2014-2015 MVP race

This wouldn’t necessitate its own post if Twitter wasn’t so miserly with its character restriction, but I just had to get this off my chest.  In light of how widely Houston Rockets fans were mocked and Houston Rockets bloggers were derided as homers last season for arguing that James Harden deserved the MVP, I think its very amusing to see how well the Warriors have done this postseason in spite of some less than stellar performances from Stephen Curry.  I wonder how Houston would’ve looked that year with a player next to Harden capable of pulling off the performance that Klay Thompson did in Game 6 in saving the Warriors’ season.






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via the Chron:

Two years ago, they (the Rockets) were very good defensively. The ability and the talent is there. There needs to be a mentality where all five guys understand that it takes all five guys to get a stop, everybody’s involved and if one guy doesn’t do his job, he’s an outcast.

I’m not going to pretend as if I am an expert on Bzdelik’s philosophies, but from what I gather, he’s a highly respected and capable assistant; there is no doubt regarding Bzdelik’s competency for this job.

But the cited quotation above underscores my central concern regarding this coaching search and the current dynamics.  What does it matter that Bzdelik is saying all of the right things?  A man’s words hold no weight if he does not wield the power of accountability.  Making James Harden an “outcast” for his lackluster effort is a great theoretical exercise.  But what’s going to happen in reality?  You are telling me that Mike D’Antoni is going to bench his best offensive player because he failed to get back on defense?  I’ll believe that when I see it.  As I’ve been writing since news of Hou…Alexander’s interest in D’Antoni first leaked, I don’t believe a strong cabinet of assistants can overcome the glaring deficiency of a head coach.  It’s the head coach who dictates agenda.  But I remain hopeful.






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The same door that was shut emphatically after the Thunder advanced to the West Finals by knocking off the San Antonio Spurs just maybe opened again slightly after the way Oklahoma City went down in blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Warriors.  Maybe.  Had the Thunder gone down in conventional fashion, I think Durant probably would have quickly re-upped without much thought; just the manner in which it happened, and the accompanying sting, might have been enough to at least get some other teams some interviews.  But once he’s had his fill of the courting and is able to step away from the emotions of the loss, I agree he’ll return to the Thunder for at least another year, as most are predicting.  No other basketball scenario makes much sense.

Had Klay Thompson not suddenly caught fire, the Thunder would have been right there playing for the title last night.  Durant can’t leave that for the unknown of an entirely new roster.  I thought previously where the Rockets might have had a chance would have been had the Thunder been dismantled by the Spurs, as it seemed would be the case after Game 1 of that series.  Then, they could’ve pitched to Durant that they could build something better here than what he currently has.  That will be an almost impossible sell now.

Its unfortunate, not just for the obvious reason of missing out on a generational player, but for the implications on James Harden’s career arc.  As I’ve been musing recently on Twitter, despite being one of the best pure scorers in the world, I think where Harden’s true value lies is as a facilitator.  And I would have loved to have seen him play that role out next to a great scorer like Durant.  With Harden’s outside shooting, natural composure, and willingness as a passer, he and Durant really are the perfect blend of talents.  I think Harden wants to set guys up, but hasn’t had much to work with here in Houston.  Contrast that with Westbrook who, while probably held in higher regard overall than Harden, doesn’t really seem to amplify Durant’s strengths; Westbrook and Durant almost seem to have to take turns rather than meshing together.  I think Houston could’ve made the sell on this fit, especially if including the prospect of a second max guy such as Al Horford whose passing abilities would’ve made the Rockets offense even more dangerous.  But now, its all too theoretical.  Why leave to a team that could be great when you are already on one that once again, almost was great?






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via the Houston Chronicle:

“We felt we want to win all the time, every year, try for a championship at all times,” Alexander said. “We wanted somebody who really was a master of the craft. Who really knew what to do, how to win. Mike has won 60 games twice in his career. There are only three NBA coaches who have done that, Doc (Rivers), (Gregg) Popovich and (Steve) Kerr.

“If you hire a young guy, you’re going to have a learning experience. He is going to have to make mistakes learning his craft, learning what to do. We with the Rockets, with James Harden, who is a great, great player, didn’t want to go through that experience. The NBA today is ball movement and speed. Mike is one of the real experts at that. He will be able to put guys in position to win and better their game.”

I shared my full thoughts on the introductory press conference yesterday evening via my Twitter account.  A lot stood out, but above all, if there was even any doubt, all reports that this hire was a Les Alexander move were completely confirmed.

I thought the above cited quotation was particularly noteworthy.  I do think that given the timeline on Harden, not just solely that he is already in his physical prime, but also due to the fact that he can walk in two years, I think the aversion towards a process which could include growing pains is justified.  But is there really any empirical evidence that young coaches struggle any more than retreads?  I can definitely see the fear in handing the keys to someone who has never held a clipboard at all, but an experienced assistant would have been in the exact same trenches and would have been privy to the exact same experiences as someone who had been the head man before.  Perhaps anxiety sets in during late game situations when quick decisions must be made, but in theory, that is where one would be able to lean on their assistants – its not analogous to the situation where a young player must shoot a critical free throw or take a late-game shot and do those things all on his own.  So in summary, while I understand the logic behind the underlying premise of wanting a smooth transition, I’m not sure I agree with the thinking that there would necessarily be growing pains if hiring anyone but a former head coach.

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I wrote back on August 3 that Ty Lawson was the biggest key to the Houston Rockets’ 2015-2016 season.  Lawson, of course, was a complete and unmitigated disaster, going on to average just 5.8 points and 3.4 assists on 39% shooting in 53 very forgettable games.  He was the biggest flop that I can remember during my time following this team, and that includes the Rockets careers of Scottie Maurice Pippen and Kelvin T. Cato (the latter of Slim Thug and ESG’s graceful request for the return of our communal currency).

[As an aside, because I haven’t really touched on this much yet, also from that not-so-prescient August 3 piece: “Harden is pretty likely to be about as good again, and Howard is pretty likely to have better health, if even only slightly.  (If he only plays half a season again, they already won 56 games withstanding that output).”  Harden pretty much was just as good, except he regressed defensively, and Dwight was healthy…except that may have been a bad thing for everyone involved.  Oops.]

Back to Lawson.  This piece also could have aptly been titled ‘Can James Harden co-exist with a ball dominant point guard i.e. would it be completely insane to give Mike Conley a max?’ but I’m trying to push this ‘what went wrong?’ series to like ten pieces because such a duration would only be fitting for such a disastrous season.  I theorized earlier in the year, in accordance with what appeared to be the prevailing conventional wisdom at the time, that it might be wise to pair Harden with another shooting guard (i.e.: Bradley Beal) because the Lawson experience definitively proved that Harden could not co-exist with an actual point guard.  This was before Lawson went on to post an on-off offensive rating difference of -21.9(!!!!) for the Indiana Pacers in the postseason, demonstrating that rather than providing anything of value regarding Harden and intra-team dynamics, Lawson’s stint was only useful in establishing that he probably just isn’t very good anymore.

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