On the monkey’s paw

The Houston Rockets fell to the cellar-dwelling Phoenix Suns, and they didn’t even seem to want to fight. They met their end against the Dallas Mavericks and the rest of this season is just another work week until summer break. The Rockets, the team, and their fans, got everything they wanted, and it destroyed them. The Rockets and James Harden and Dwight Howard gave their detractors everything they wanted, too. Everyone checked everything off their list and nobody is happy in the least. If there’s anything to be taken from the H&H Rockets, it’s not so much to be careful what you wish for, but that anything you want could be the wrong thing for any reason. Never expect anything, because anything could be a monkey’s paw.

The story of the monkey’s paw centers on a mystical, mummified monkey’s paw that has the power to grant wishes. As each wish is made, a finger curls to the palm and a desire is met. In every case, the wish serves only to ruin the family that uses it. They wish to pay off their house, but are able to do so only because their son is killed in an accident at a factory and the owners give them a settlement. This is where we find ourselves with the Houston Rockets, general manager Daryl Morey holding a paw with two of the three fingers curled up, about to wish for the whole team to be traded away. Their riches in talent have come with a dearth of effort. Their playoff runs have come at exactly the wrong time. The road paved in gold led to a cliff, and there’s nowhere to go any more.

Things looked so bright in 2013, when Dwight Howard had just signed on, Chandler Parsons was on a $900,000 contract and the sky was the limit. They had their trials and tribulations, but they were a new superstar team, and these things take time, anyway. Over the course of the first two harden seasons, the Rockets tried to break the record for most made three pointers in a game against the then-mediocre Golden State Warriors. The team took umbrage to this, and it started a heated rivalry. The Rockets had the Mark Jackson Warriors’ numbers, and the Warriors would never forget. Destroying a rival is a pretty fun way to end a season. Unfortunately, that rival would become one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

If only the Rockets could have moved forward in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers quickly snuffed that out. The Rockets suffered a truly unlikely series loss on a truly unlikely game-winning shot in game 6. This seemed to steel their resolve as they made ready to acquire Chris Bosh and dominate the league. Only, instead of Chris Bosh, they got Trevor Ariza, and lost Chandler Parsons. They got worse on paper, but played the season well, excelling on defense for most of the year. But it was a mirage, even including their remarkable postseason run. Their unlikely win over the Clippers, their Conference Finals berth, Harden’s MVP runner up vote simply served to increase the expectations, increase the stakes.

And then it all came crashing down. This loss to the Suns marks the 41st of the season. They’ll have to win out just to end at .500, and they probably wouldn’t make the playoffs in that case. Houston got their two superstars. Morey’s plan worked perfectly. They found a supporting cast with chemistry and fit, and they kept it together to try to achieve those intangibles. Hell, they even got the quality playmaking point guard they wanted in Ty Lawson. They found the imbalances they so wanted, and managed to stay competitive while building a contending team. Everything went exactly according to plan.

Now they’re the most hated team in the NBA, with no future, no plan, and nothing left in the tank.

It’s a buffet for those who have hated Dwight Howard for years, hated Daryl Morey since the Rockets started shooting threes, and hated James Harden since he left the Thunder. When they were scrappy underdogs using every trick in the book to stand up to goliaths, they were a cult favorite. Once they had a real shot at winning it all, metagaming and analytics lost their sheen in the public eye. The literati on the NBA pronounced them true contenders. The proletariat pronounced them frauds. It turns out the jeers were right the whole time. But then, why don’t people seem to be enjoying their downfall?

Rooting against the Rockets has been like booing the meanest riverboat-gambler-themed wrestler in the league in one year, then watching him show up in the next match penniless and destitute, begging the hero for a loan so that he can keep his family fed and the bookies off his back. It’s no fun to beat up on a villain that does it for you. Those with an axe to grind with Houston got exactly what they wanted this season, but only the most bloodthirsty and vindictive can find any satisfaction at beating up on this battered and broken team. Pathos turns hatred into something like pity. and the Rockets are swimming in it right now.

For the fan, for those who have a stake in the Rockets, there’s a different formula. Pathos can turn love into disappointment and disgust. Instead of being hated by the world, the Rockets are hated by their own fans, by the people who expected the moon but just got rocks. Everything has turned 180 degrees, and given how good last season was, that’s a waking nightmare. The fans, the team, the writers, everyone seems to be on the same page now. Just let this season end. Just let this all come to a close, whatever the price. There’s been no joy for an entire season, and now release is the only good left.

That’s the risk you run when you expect greatness. That’s the risk you run when you achieve greatness. That’s the risk you run when you get your wishes. The monkey’s shriveled finger took the form of the Phoenix Suns tonight, and it tightened right around Houston’s throat. There’s nothing to be said about the basketball game. It was a joke, they can’t offensive rebound, and their offense and defense come and go randomly from minute to minute. The only blessing is that it’s almost over.

But if you wish for the Rockets to miss the playoffs, be careful. You won’t like what that wish brings, either.

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