For these Houston Rockets, there are four legacies in particular that will only be validated by winning a championship at the end of this season.
The Houston Rockets have built an unfortunate reputation in recent years that they aren’t able to get it done when it matters most. The issue is, no matter how much some of these false narratives are debunked, it’s not enough to change overall perception.
After having some successful regular seasons in the past few years followed by collapses in the playoffs, the team has painted itself into a corner in which only winning a ring can get them out of. From the players down to coaching and front office staff, four guys in particular have to accomplish the ultimate goal before they can finally but criticism to rest.
The first one should come as no surprise:
1. James Harden
Current narrative: Chokes in big games, only plays well in the regular season
The “choker” label has been attached to James Harden ever since his final appearance as a sixth man with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That year, Harden had a bad series by any measure but so did the entire Thunder team in their 4-2 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat in 2011.
The part that is always left out is that Harden was the main reason the Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals in the first place, as he was the best player in their series against the San Antonio Spurs. But again, this is where the narrative takes over.
In every playoff series Harden-led teams have lost over the last five years, they were always the underdogs. Even for the infamous 2017 Game 6 debacle, the Houston Rockets were the heavy underdog to the 61-win Spurs.
Harden certainly has had bad playoff performances, from that Game 6 loss to being part of the team that missed 27 3-pointers in a row in Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors in 2018.
Even after averaging over 35 points per game against the Warriors last year, the choker label was still applied and these bad games have started to define Harden’s legacy. The only way Harden will get the respect he deserves is with an NBA championship.
Players like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley were criticized for not having rings, but it didn’t define their legacies as it has for Harden, which speaks to how the culture has changed surrounding what a championship means to a player’s legacy.
A win in the NBA Finals win would not silence all of his critics, but the choker narrative would forever be removed.