Written By: Vala Modaresi
Low IQ, Selfish, Passive, Stat stuffer – these are just a few adjectives used to describe two of the most polarizing superstars that have laced it up on the hardwood over the past decade. James Harden and Russell Westbrook, former teammates in OKC, competitors for the MVP award 5 of the last 6 years, and currently unconventional teammates for one of the more confusing teams in the NBA.
These Houston Rockets are a team that is loaded with quite a few question marks. Can a 31 and 32-year-old Harden and Westbrook shake their questionable playoff resumes? The precedent certainly exists with another all-timer when a 32-year-old Dirk finally overcame his playoff demons with one of the greatest playoff runs of all time in 2011. Westbrook has been marred with first-round exit after first-round exit every season in OKC since the departure of frenemy Kevin Durant, with his only win coming this past year when he appeared in only two games with a Rockets team that beat his former team in the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden has been a little bit different. Harden’s Rockets have been the only real threat to arguably the most talented team in NBA history, the Golden State Warriors. He boasts 2 trips to the Western Conference Finals, and playoff appearances each and every season since he’s been in Houston, a team with one playoff series win in almost two decades prior to his arrival. But the NBA talking heads make the narrative clear – nothing matters without the rings.
Will this team continue with the perplexing micro ball lineup that raised eyebrows at the 2020 NBA trade deadline, touting a lineup that didn’t feature a single-player over the height of 6’7. The team currently boasts no center, and to make matters worse, lacks the assets in the way of draft picks, salary cap space, or young prospects to ship out for a productive center that complements the pick and roll/lob game that Clint Capela fit so snugly into. Perhaps the solution is the use of the team’s mid-level exception to bring in an unproven stretch big like Christian Wood, or to trade declining sixth man of the year, Eric Gordon, for a Miles Turner type? What is certain, is that the prospective moves are made all the more difficult without GM Daryl Morey.
Daryl Morey, the forerunner of the analytics movement in the NBA, recently stepped down from the Rockets front office, a move that deserves it’s own article (stay tuned). During Morey’s tenure in Houston, no team other than the Sixers made more transactions than the Houston Rockets. His ability to find products on the cheap, and diamonds in the rough like Jeff Green, PJ Tucker, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, and other key contributing pieces for the Rockets’ recent playoff runs made team building around Harden’s talents a match made in heaven. Did I mention that the Rockets are conducting a coaching search with a rookie GM now?
So here we have it. Two aging superstars whose resumes speak for themselves. Harden: former league MVP, 7 time All-NBA star, MVP finalist 5 of the last 6 years while leading the Rockets to the playoffs every single year during his time in Houston, but always lacking a signature playoff moment due to an all-time team in the Golden State Warriors blocking the way out of the Western Conference like a Kikiro guardian in The Legend of Zelda. Westbrook: former league MVP, 8 time All NBA selections, Triple Double MACHINE for three straight seasons, and just one playoff series win since Kevin Durant eloped from their on-court marriage. Does this sound familiar at all?
What happens next for these stars? The future in Houston is uncertain, but having two former MVPs in the twilight of their primes brings a certain measure of short term confidence for Rockets fans, even if what lies beyond the horizon may bring dark days to a storied franchise that has been a perennial playoff contender for the last eight seasons.
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