After an eight-year stint which brought them close to championships, it looks like Harden and the Rockets could separate. Read on to find out more.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets: Where Do They Go From Here?
Houston Rockets had a busy off-season between the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 seasons. Mike D’Antoni didn’t sign a contract extension which he had spoken about signing which meant he left after the 19-20 season had finished, and signed on as assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets. The Rockets had their best regular season performances across the first three years of his reign. Daryl Morey, who had a thirteen-year stint with the Rockets as, firstly, assistant general manager and then general, left for the Philadelphia 76ers. The team reached the playoffs nine times under his tenure and never had a negative regular season record. Finally, the Rocket’s crown jewel, James Harden – the eight-time All-Star and 2018’s MVP – issued a trade demand. However, he is still on the team, and looks likely to be until the trade deadline, and possibly beyond. Where does this leave the Rockets and Harden?
Rockets: Wall, Cousins, and Wood
Houston have had Chris Paul and then Russell Westbrook in recent years. They were both brought in to help Harden bring the team a championship title. Paul helped the team get closest in 2018-19, losing to the Golden State Warriors in a tight series and Westbrook didn’t help at all. Westbrook wanted out and got out, ending up at the Washington Wizards to play with Bradley Beal in a trade deal for John Wall which has been described as a desperate one for both teams. The Rockets do acquire a talent point guard, though. However, he hasn’t played for two years after a serious knee injury. If he does recover and play to a decent enough standard, though, Wall could lead the second unit, leaving Harden’s usage unchecked while he’s on the court, and meaning that Houston have a capable guard and shooter on the court more often than not.
They, also, have interesting big-man options this season. D’Antoni favoured small-ball line-ups in previous seasons, ridding themselves of talent like Clint Capela to play so. This year, they have DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood. Cousins comes off an injury hit spell, like Wall, but has plenty of star-talent if he can recover, and Wood offers a lot of versatility in offense. Harden could find himself leading a much more flexible set of plays, along side his usual isolation and pick and rolls.
Will Harden be convinced by the newly acquired pieces? He has not expressed his reasons for demanding a trade. His off-the-field antics have found him the target of many questions. Does he find more sustained interest in things away from the court? There’s entertainment from land-based casinos in Vegas or online casino UK or golf. Jimmy Butler set up a coffee business recently, so could Harden expand his brand? There’s a lot to be said to just generally enjoying living a pressure-life and dragging a franchise to the playoffs and being exhausted playing those important series. All those close to him say is that he wants to win a title, which hints that he doesn’t think Houston can provide that for him now that D’Antoni and Morey have gone. If the new lineup doesn’t interest him, where could he go? The 76ers, where Morey is now, ruled out trading Ben Simmons, their key trade asset. Harden has spoken about join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the Nets, with D’Antoni, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen. What’s holding teams back from him is whether he would fit into their plans, whether he could sacrifice any part of his game to win that title, or will he go the Allen Iverson route and win on his own terms? As things stand, joining a lottery team, much like the Rockets are right now, seems unlikely. He will remain a Rocket unless something drastic happens, like the Raptors panic, and the Rockets will be happy with that.