Harden & 2017 Houston Rockets
I wasn’t entirely sure what I expected from my team, the Houston Rockets, before the start of the 2016-2017 NBA regular season. The team was coming off a disappointing 41-41 season, having made the Western Conference finals the year before.
In the off-season, we hired Mike D’Antoni to replace our inter-rim head coach, J.B. Bickerstaff. Mike has been best known for his great stint with the Phoenix Suns. However, his reputation did suffer a bit after rough stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. I personally felt his rosters weren’t great on those teams, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Howard decided not to opt-in the final year of his contract to sign with the Atlanta Hawks. We were left with a second-year rookie in Clint Capela to hold down the paint.
We signed Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene through free-agency. I’ve grown watching Ryan on the Orlando Magic and the New Orleans Pelicans; he’s a good power-forward that can shoot the three well and help stretch the floor. Eric, also a teammate with Ryan on the Pelicans, is a solid scorer that can easily put up 20 points a game. The team has been wanting Nene for years; though, I wasn’t sure we would be getting the same player this far into his career. All have battled with injuries for a majority of their careers, though.
After all these transactions, the media predicted our team to barely, if at all, make playoffs.
After just weeks into the season, I was excited.
James Harden was playing out of his mind. He was embracing his new role of point guard so well – making great passes, moving the ball around and utilizing more of the pick-and-roll. Gordon started to come off the bench, which I felt helped the team keep up the pace when Harden was resting. Everyone was nailing threes. In contrast to last year, it was actually fun watching the Houston Rockets.
Even when the team was down, given our offense, we always had a chance to go on amazing runs and get right back in. One example of this was our incredible comeback against the Minnesota Timberwolves, when we were down 17 with just two minutes left in the game.
Harden was nearly averaging a triple-double, and most importantly, he was making his teammates better. He was again in contention for Most Valuable Player — along side Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard.
The team locked in 3rd seed in a tough conference a month before the end of the season and finished the season with a 55-27 record, 3rd best in the league.
For a team assembled this year and predicted to not even make playoffs by all basketball analysts at the start of the season, I believe that is an incredible accomplishment.
The Houston Rockets ousted the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, 4-1, and ended their season losing to the San Antonio Spurs 2-4 in the Western Conference semi-finals.
In their last game, they lost at home in an embarrassing fashion — getting blown out 114-75.
While I’m proud of the accomplishments we made this season, the final game left me wondering about the mental state and reliability of James Harden.
As long as he is a Houston Rocket, I will always support him, but it’s hard to put faith on him come playoff time. He seems to disappear when we need him most.
This season is only his 7th — and if the history of other elite athletes repeats itself, the following seasons are when he starts turning things around.
I hope he does, I think he deserves it.