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5 Roadblocks Preventing The Houston Rockets from Winning West

By Bill Simpson
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3. Leadership

As longtime Rockets fans know, leaders are vital in winning championships. Three-time NBA champion Mario Ellie discussed Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon‘s leadership abilities to TrueHoop in 2008:

“The confidence this guy had in himself and our team raised us, it was amazing. I just smiled. In Game 6, he makes a last-second block, we win Game 7 and win our first title. I was amazed that whole summer after that end result. That will stick with me the rest of my life. Another time like that was when we were down 3-1 in Phoenix in the 1995 Playoffs. Hakeem was sitting next to me on the airplane. He looked over and said ‘Let’s go surprise them.’ We ended up winning the series. It’s his confidence that made him the man he was and is. That’s what he did. When you look at him, he’s a pillar of strength and you could grab on to it.”

What’s similar between the championship runs of Howard and Harden is neither was the team’s leader. Howard deferred to Stan Van Gundy and even Rashard Lewis, while Harden had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in front of him.

But now this is James Harden’s team.

Dec 28, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets power forward Dwight Howard (12) warms up before a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

And he can’t hide behind that beard forever.

He was in Houston first, almost single-handedly raising the bar from mediocrity to championship aspirations. And with Howard’s well-documented personality (the words “prima donna” come to mind) Harden isn’t nearly as polarizing. Dwight may be older, but people listen to James Harden.

Jeremy Lin told the Houston Chronicle last year, “[Harden]’s our leader. He’s our best player. We feed off him…if you look at our season as a whole, we’ve surpassed a lot of people’s expectations, and he’s a big part of it.”

Harden’s been more vocal recently as part of his development with the Rockets. He’s starting to mature and value the importance of leading. He gives his teammates the credit in the post-game interviews; he’s more enthusiastic.

“It’s a hard responsibility being the best player on a championship-level team. It’s a lot of work. That means you have to be more ready. You can’t have bad days as far as attitude or effort-wise,” said Van Gundy.

But it takes time.

It took Hakeem Olajuwon 10 years to win a championship. James Harden is on year five.

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