The Houston Rockets and the Failed Harden D12 Experiment

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It all went so well last year. James Harden almost won the MVP award and the Houston Rockets made the Western Conference Finals behind an elite score and a two time defensive player of the year who appeared in the finals with the Orlando Magic in 2009. This year, they were supposed to compete with the big guns and contend for a title. What happened instead was a very disappointing regular season  and a postseason berth that hinged on a 60 point performance from a retiring Kobe Bryant. They followed up a mediocre regular season with a 5 game exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors where Steph Curry played only 1 game due to his knee injury.

For this team, it isn’t “Houston, we have a problem,” it’s “Houston, we have multiple problems.” For lack of a better expression two of their biggest are actually a similar problem actually, but with two different players.

Dwight Howard has not lived up to his incredible potential since his bitter exit from Orlando. In Orlando his popularity was sky high while drawing comparisons to some of the league’s best while putting up historic numbers in the process. Since then to say things have not gone well for Howard is an understatement. The Los Angeles experiment with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and company was riddled with injury and tension between him and a living legend in Kobe Bryant. Since arriving in Houston his points per game totals have dipped considerably in each of the last two seasons and his problems with coaches and teammates seem to be intensifying. It’s appears so far beyond repair, that when James Harden hit a game winning shot last week to give the Rockets a game three victory, Howard’s reaction appeared to be that of indifference and disappointment. Certainly not like he’d just won a playoff game against the team with the best regular season record ever.

The best thing for the Rockets (and Howard himself) would be for him to go far, far away from the Toyota Center and never come back despite the odd road game. That would allow for impressive youngster Clint Capela to take over and get a lot more playing time while getting important minutes in playoff situations. Luckily, Howard is most likely going to decline his 2017 option and become a free agent this summer and rumoured landing spots like Milwaukee or Portland each have the cap space and a need for a big-man. Still only 30, there’s time for Howard to go somewhere and salvage some of his reputation, but it won’t be in Houston and it won’t be with a coach that lacks tolerance of immaturity.

Just like Howard, James Harden took a huge step back in 2015-16. His defense has literally become a joke (type in James Harden in Google and the search suggestion after his shoes is defense) and has inspired endless video clips of him giving almost laughable effort. While one of the most charismatic players in the NBA, he uses his teammates almost as much as he uses a razor. His shot selection judgment could make J.R. Smith look like a pass-first point guard. This year, he took more shots than anyone in the NBA — from the field and from the line.

Harden’s poor defense and his inability not to shoot take away much of the value he adds as a prolific scorer. He remains one of the few players in the NBA that can singlehandedly win, or lose, a game. Moving on from him might be best for the Rockets in the long run, because it seems hard to fathom that Harden will ever hoist a Larry O’Brien trophy. He’s under contract until the end of the 2017-18 season and unless he changes dramatically, that contract has the potential to become really bad, really fast.


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