3. James Harden’s power over the Houston Rockets is not new in the NBA
NBA revenue is driven by superstar players like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, and James Harden because their individual brilliance provides awe-inspiring entertainment. Owners rely on their marquee players to deliver the entertainment and wins needed to generate massive interest in their franchise.
James Harden, a member of the Rockets since 2012, has led Houston to the post-season every year and made the organization one of the most relevant in the league. Prior to his arrival, the Houston Rockets had missed the playoffs three seasons in a row after the injury derailed Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady era unexpectedly came to an end.
Daryl Morey, the Rockets general manager at the time, was able to strike a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fall of 2012 to land Harden, fresh off of winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, in a trade that involved Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and draft picks. Harden rocketed to superstardom upon his arrival to Houston as he was voted to the All-Star team in his first season.
Since joining the Rockets, Harden finished on an All-NBA team every year except 2016 and won the league MVP in 2018. His individual successes have led the Rockets to two Western Conference Finals appearances, three Semi-Finals appearances, to go along with eight total playoff appearances. Throughout it all, Harden’s first priority has been winning a championship, and it led him to often play a large role in roster decisions, given his importance to the team’s success.
This fact was not lost on Tim MacMahon, as he stated in his article, “Harden has pushed the Rockets to upgrade every offseason, saying he would want to be traded if they couldn’t contend.” He continued to offer glimpses of Harden’s power in the organization when he revealed that, “He had final say on things beyond just travel and practice schedules as well. He could call the shots on personnel moves, both on the roster and the coaching staff, a power he flexed to push for the firing of head coach Kevin McHale and departures of co-stars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.”
Franchise-altering superstars like James Harden are incredibly rare and organizations will go the extra mile to keep them happy. A recent example of this is how Lebron James exercises his influence over the organizations he plays for.
The four-time NBA champion is one of the greatest players in the history of the league and has exercised his power in a similar fashion to Harden with the Rockets. After LeBron rejoined the Cavaliers prior to the 2014-2015 season, he operated swiftly with management to assemble a championship contender.
Lebron knew that his best path to a championship in Cleveland was to add another proven star-caliber player to play alongside him and, at the time, two-time All-Star Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers found a trade partner in the Minnesota Timberwolves who were looking for a rebuild.
The deal saw the Cavaliers ship out the number one overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, for All-NBA power forward, Kevin Love. The addition of Love to the roster allowed the Cavaliers to compete for a championship and saw them reach the Finals in LeBron’s first season back with the franchise.
The greatest example of Lebron’s power over the Cavs organization came in the 2015-2016 season. At midseason, Cleveland fired their head coach, David Blatt, to be replaced by the lead assistant, Tyronn Lue.
Blatt’s firing was utterly unimaginable under normal circumstances as the Cavs held the best record in the eastern conference at the time and had just reached the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers’ general manager, David Griffin, claimed that Blatt was dismissed due to “a lack of fit with our personnel and our vision.”
Reading between the lines, it is fairly obvious that Lebron James and David Blatt did not see eye-to-eye on decisions. Lebron exercised his power within the organization and had Blatt’s fired despite his incredible success as their head coach.
James Harden’s power within the Rockets’ organization shouldn’t come as a shock given his importance in representing the franchise on and off the court. While superstars can be considered divas and are often pampered excessively compared to other players, but NBA owners have always catered to them and James Harden represents the rule, not the exception.
Next: Takeaway #2