Apr 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) scrambles for a loose ball with New Orleans Pelicans forward Tyreke Evans (1) during the second quarter of a game at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
After Donatas Montiejunas was quoted saying that James Harden and Dwight Howard ate separately from the rest of their team last season, speculation occurred suggesting the two superstars cannot properly lead the Houston Rockets.
“Q: When communicating with Howard and Harden, what do you talk about?
A: Basically I say just “Hello” and “Goodbye” to them.
Q: They don’t invite you to barbecue or something?
A: No, they eat different food than me.
Q: What? Do you mean they eat oysters?
A: No… being European, I am more likely to eat oyster than them. They eat fast food.”
Clearly, the initial report was a tad incorrect.
Feb 12, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) and center Dwight Howard (12) react after defeating the Washington Wizards 113-112 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Ok, so Harden and Howard don’t completely shun their teammates. Dwight even went as far as telling one curious follower on Twitter to check his pictures on Instagram:
@TC_Heiss scroll thru my pics don’t believe everything u hear. We went to movies and ate dinner almost every city. But u wouldn’t know that
— Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward) August 8, 2014
As much as this proves Harden and Howard aren’t the most egotistical jerks on the planet, the fact people easily bought-in to the idea they didn’t even eat with their teammates speaks volumes of their current reputation.
Just a few weeks ago, Dwight claimed that the departure of Chandler Parsons “won’t affect us at all”. A few days after that, James stated in an interview that “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets”, and that “The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team.” Whether the wording of these comments actually reflects their respective intended meanings remains up for interpretation.
However, intentional or not, one thing from both these statements is clear: Harden and Howard don’t fully understand the value of supporting players.
Superstars serve as the cornerstones of their respective rosters; without them, teams can’t come close to succeeding. But if a squad does boast one or two superstars, the quality of their supporting cast can either make or break the team’s overall level of play.
Just look at the most recent NBA Finals match-up between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, which the Spurs won in five games. Outside of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, only Ray Allen produced more than 7 points per game for the Heat throughout that series. For the Spurs, it was a completely different story, as eight total athletes scored more than 7 points per contest.
While points aren’t everything in the NBA, this serves as a clear-cut indicator of how role players provide value. San Antonio’s surrounding players came through, and Miami’s cowered in the corner. Ultimately, it was the extras who decided the series.
Despite Harden’s experience third-wheeling with the Thunder as well as Howard’s time running the show in Orlando, both seem to have forgotten how significant of a role their supporting pieces can play. Unfortunately, as evidenced by everybody believing the initial report on D-Mo’s comments, this lack of appreciation for teammates has hurt their reputation.
Not only that, but this also holds potential to lessen the appeal of Houston for players around the league. And apparently, based on the thoughts of Grantland’s Zach Lowe, the Harden-Howard duo already lacked allure before their respective comments were even stated:
One last word on Bosh: He was intrigued by Houston, but he’s 30, he’s super-smart, and he just spent four years playing with two like-minded stars on an older roster for an organization that takes basketball craft seriously. The Rockets do, too, but there is an undercurrent around the league that Harden and Howard don’t represent the most appealing duo of teammates for any star who has lived within ultraserious professionalism.
Howard was great last year, but the jokiness and free-agent dithering hurt his image. The viral videos of Harden’s defense damaged his reputation. It wouldn’t shock me if Bosh at least considered some of that in his decision.
Factor in the statements, and it’s likely playing alongside Dwight and James looks worse than it ever did in the past.
With Howard locked in to a max deal until at least 2016 and Harden until at least 2017, it’s reasonable to think their respective reputations can cause Houston to miss out on big-time free agents. Considering this possibility, it would be wise for the two all-stars to change their overall mindset.
Their own success as well as that of the Rockets depends on it.