How do you build a team around James Harden? – continued

I wrote last week, in essence, that the Rockets shouldn’t think about the ‘ideal’ in building a team, because that would just be a path to wasting a lot of time in passing up a lot of potentially available players.  Mine can be considered a defeatist opinion, I know.  So then what would the ideal team around Harden look like?  The question holds relevance not just due to the rumors indicating a potential breakup of the team, but against the backdrop of murmurs in some respected circles as to whether the team should trade Harden himself.

The irony really is that last year’s Rockets construct, an Iverson-Sixers style 90’s era outfit with one ball dominant superstar flanked by a DPOY center and gritty defenders, in kinder years, probably wins the title or at least makes the Finals.  The assumption now, in a Warriors world, has become that that style of play cannot win big in today’s NBA.  But, for more irony, the Rockets aren’t what each individual part would suggest.  You look at this lineup and see just one playmaker and think they probably have an inability to score.  But the offense–#8 in the league–is actually fine.  It’s the defense–#24 in the league–which is broken.  So you could actually argue that people see the names Howard, Ariza, and Beverley, and think “great defender”, but in reality, each player has slipped in meaningful ways.  (Beverley, as I had been writing extensively last year, hasn’t been a good defender for quite some time).

Setting that discussion aside, what would that ideal lineup look like?  We learned this year, despite his alleged pleas to Daryl Morey to “get [him] a point guard”, that Harden actually doesn’t want anyone who will even want to bring the ball up the floor, let alone set up the offense.  Thus, at point guard, you’d want someone who was elite defensively and as a spot up shooter.  Pat Beverley, in essence, if he was still any good on defense.

Your small forward would have those same traits, but ideally, maybe a little bit more ball handling ability than Trevor Ariza so that he could serve as the ball handler in secondary pick and roll situations.  Think Chandler Parsons in his rookie season.  Trevor Ariza somehow is actually shooting better this year than he was last season, but his defensive has slipped noticeably.

At the big slots, you’d want rim protection, shooting, and intelligence.  Maybe a healthy Donatas Motiejunas with Chris Bosh pairing?  (This also begs the question as to how things would look right now, given Ariza’s decline and Houston’s total lack of production from the ‘4’ slot, had Bosh not left the team at the altar two summers ago.  Last year eased the hurt, but those wounds now are re-opening.  Bosh actually was the absolute perfect fit next to Dwight Howard and a reversal of that single act of deception may have prevented the Rockets empire from ultimately crumbling).

After writing all of that, I’m more confused than ever.  It shouldn’t be that hard to put together the team I just outlined.  But, despite last year’s success, my mind keeps drifting back to the philosophical conundrum staring everyone in the face.  How can you win big depending so heavily upon just one guy?  If he ever has an off night, you’re toast.  In the 90’s, the other teams also were relying on just one guy, so you could play those odds.

And of even greater importance, what are the effects of morale when that one guy doesn’t really seem to care?  I think those 76ers surrounding Iverson were willing to lay it all on the line because Iverson did the same.  But when Harden’s teammates see him continuously loafing?  Who wants to play hard to cover up for that guy?

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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