On contention

There are about four questions that people ask over the course of the NBA season. “How does he compare to Jordan” is probably number one, asked about seemingly half the league, with “Will this team make the playoffs soon” at a close number two. The last two, in no particular order are “Will this player get traded” and “Is this team a contender.” Well, Houston’s more or less a playoff lock now, nobody on the team is comparable to Jordan, and everyone is always on the trading block, so that leaves the last question to burn in the minds of Rockets fans. But what makes a contender in the first place? What’s the rubric there, and how do we use it to judge Houston?

To jump to the end a bit, the answer is no. The Rockets aren’t a true contender. (They could potentially win it all but it would take a few major things to swing their way. Some people call these teams “sub-contenders.”) They were in the same boat last year, and probably aren’t greatly different in terms of overall team strength. They’ve changed out parts but what they haven’t changed out are the pieces that a team needs to win it all: stars, elite coaching and cohesive, skilled role-players.

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 2, James Harden

Read Part 1 where I discussed Pat Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas, and Trevor Ariza.

James Harden:  First, the obvious – Harden needs to show commitment on the defensive end.  It’s simple, really.  This team doesn’t have a chance until its star player brings consistent effort on both sides of the ball, though the Parsons/Ariza swap should mitigate the problem and increase their odds.  As I told a reader last week, when asked my thoughts regarding the reports of Harden’s defense with Team USA, it’s not an issue of ability with The Beard.  It’s the same “too cool for school” mentality that you see so prevalently in any pickup game amongst amateurs.  Certain people think they’re just too cool, or too good to try defensively, and that they can just get the points back on the other end.  Odd considering how much the defensive greatness of Michael Jordan and Lebron James, the two best players of the last thirty years, is lauded and pointed out.

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 1

The summer before I began third grade, my mother resolved to teach me multiplication before commencement of classes.  I taped the entire ‘times tables’ onto my closet door, every morning drilling through the combinations.  By early August, I had them down cold.  I finished the year with something like a ’99′ average in ‘math’, more importantly developing a reputation as a ‘times’ assassin amongst my peers.  We’d play a game in ‘math’–the name escapes me–where all of the students sat in a circle, with one standing up behind someone else.  The pair would battle, getting a multiplication question, with the winner advancing to the next pairing.  I’d absolutely kill it.  9×9.  Boom.  81.  6×5.  Boom.  30.  They didn’t have a chance.  My self esteem was soaring.

Looking back, my mother and I never did this again in any other summer and consequently, I never again enjoyed such a head start over my classmates.  My mother will tell you it was obstinance on my part.  But I wonder what made me so driven that one year.  The point of this story was to attempt to tie in the larger moral that success is built in the heat of July, or something poetic like that.  For NBA players, the greats always come back one notch better having added a new move in their spare time.  The middle class works on flaws, hoping to either take the next step or not get swallowed up by the most competitive labor force in America.

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On Injury

Injuries are a part of life in the NBA. In fact, injuries are part of any professional sport, and there’s no way to prevent them completely. The latest example of a horrible freak injury in the NBA sphere was the gruesome and tragic leg injury suffered by Paul George at the end of a Team USA scrimmage. “Leg injury” is extremely euphemistic for the severity of the break he suffered just above the ankle, but my recommendation is to avoid watching footage of it and just leave it at that. It’s a horrible injury, it was a freak accident, he’s already begun the recovery process, and the sooner he heals, the better.

This injury brings up an important topic, which is the reaction to and planning for freak injuries like this. Debates over stanchion placement aside, there’s not a lot of blame to go around, here. It’s normal to want to find the culprit, to rectify the wrong. The only problem is that in the case of most injuries, there’s no such party. Much is being made of this injury changing the way NBA teams and players interact with FIBA, but really this changes nothing. There was a tiny chance a player might get seriously hurt playing basketball anywhere, and those chances haven’t changed. The only difference is that now people can see the difference between a tiny chance and no chance at all.

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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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