The Houston Rockets' downward spiral
Without Paul, there was only thing to do: go into overdrive and hope for the best.
You could simulate games six and seven of the 2018 Western Conference finals 100 times, and without Chris Paul on the floor, the Warriors likely win 80 or more of those simulations.
I doubt the Rockets miss 27 threes in a row even once.
The beginning of the end was around the 15th missed 3-pointer. We all know what happens next. We just don’t know why, or how. Fast forward to the beginning of the 2020-21 NBA season, and it is legitimately rumored that James Harden is wearing a fat suit to practice.
Fingers have been pointed in several directions. In all likelihood, the blame lies with some combination of Daryl Morey, Mike D’Antoni, Tilman Fertitta, and fate. I do not believe it lies with James Harden.
The decay of the Houston Rockets' roster
It wasn’t Harden who decided to let Trevor Ariza walk and replaced him with Carmelo Anthony. In a league littered with 3-and-D wings, the obvious answer was to either retain Ariza or go hunt for his facsimile; Danny Green, Robert Covington, Torey Craig, Kent Bazemore, Joe Ingles, Wes Matthews, Reggie Bullock. I’m not sure of the availability of each of these individual players was, but you cannot tell me that none of them could have been had. Instead of replacing Ariza with a functionally similar player, someone in Houston decided to acquire Carmelo Anthony; A decidedly better player in his prime, but equally obviously a guy who specialized in everything the Rockets didn’t need and nothing that they did. Mr. Midrange-and-no-D.
We cut him after nine games. To stop the bleeding we acquired Iman Shumpert, apparently unaware that three was an equally important component of the 3-and-D equation.
It also wasn’t Harden who couldn’t recognize that Nene was on his last legs and that the 10 to 20 minutes a night he spent shadowing Clint Capela when the Rockets weren’t comfortable going small were integral to our success the previous season, and needed to be replaced.
Finally, it may well have been Harden who requested the Rockets trade the prickly CP3 for his long-time friend Russell Westbrook. It doesn’t matter. When you give a man the keys to your house, you can’t get upset when he puts his feet on the couch. It was Harden’s job to generate offense and he did it at a historic clip. It was someone else’s job to manage egos. To tell Harden sorry, but you’re going to have to learn to get along with Chris because the basketball fit with Russ is not there and we’re trying to win a championship.
What’s the worst that could have happened: he demanded a trade?