Why the Houston Rockets Should Keep their Franchise Guy
Site Expert Anthony Duckett:
It would seem like now would be the time to raise the question of whether the Rockets should trade Harden, as the Rockets have now had the Beard for eight seasons and have been unable to capture a title. It seems like an excuse to point out that the Rockets consistently ran up against the greatest team ever assembled in the Golden State Warriors, although it would be telling the truth.
Or to point out that the Rockets were only a hamstring away from reaching the Finals in 2018, which would also be stating facts. But the Rockets entered the 2019-20 season without those obstacles, and still walked away without a title, for the gazillionth time during the Harden era (although it wasn’t exactly his fault).
As it pertains to whether the Rockets should trade Harden, the short and simple answer is no, and for several reasons. For starters, we have to remember how the Rockets looked before Harden’s arrival, as they were starved and destitute of a star, which made them willing to take a chance on a sixth man in Harden in hopes that he could emerge as the star player they needed.
Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming’s peaks had collectively been reached, and the Rockets were left in the most frustrating state for a fan to be in, as they weren’t a contending team but also weren’t tanking enough to land a high probability of getting the top pick in the draft.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey swung and missed on star players such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, and more, as the Rockets simply weren’t appealing without a superstar. Having James Harden has changed all of that, as Rockets GM Daryl Morey was able to lure Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook due to having Harden on the roster.
Harden has also proven to be coach-proof, as he’s been an MVP finalist under Kevin McHale and Mike D’Antoni, while also being an All-Star under J.B. Bickerstaff. Harden has also thrived in a number of different systems, whether it’s meant putting him at the point guard position or having him as the linchpin in the small ball strategy.
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It should also be noted that you essentially never get equal value in return for a superstar, which has been evident in many trades across the league.
The New Orleans Pelicans became the most recent example, as they traded away franchise player Anthony Davis in exchange for a multitude of young assets and missed the playoffs altogether while the Los Angeles Lakers reached the NBA Finals in his first season in L.A.
The Denver Nuggets learned a similar lesson upon dealing Carmelo Anthony back in 2011, as they found it difficult to replace him.
Not only would the Rockets be setting themselves back as a franchise by moving Harden, as it would be impossible to replace one of the greatest scorers in the league during his prime, but we have to remember that Harden epitomizes everything the Rockets do.
Harden’s playing style fits the efficient model of scoring an abundance of points without taking an insane amount of shots. Morey would have an even more difficult time trying to replace a playing style that’s perfectly aligned with his analytical approach unless he brings in Kevin Durant, which isn’t happening.
For these reasons, the Rockets would be wise to keep Harden and must ignore the talk of sending him packing, as it would be bad for all parties involved.