The Rockets are perhaps the most challenging team to be a fan of in the NBA. They are by no means the worst, just the most challenging. They’re smart, but sometimes too smart. Sometimes they’re too aware of their own cleverness; too willing to do card tricks in the dark. They win, but break your heart in the end. They’re brilliant, but in a strange, numerical, game-bending way. The comforts of being a Rockets fan are the consolations of philosophy and mathematics. Those can be chilly companions on a dark night in the off-season, mind filled with doubts.
In some respects, though, the Rockets lately have reminded me a bit of one of those gross-out eating shows. You know, “Oh, so you ate a fried bat. But can you eat a raw sea slug? Covered in pink icing and BBQ sauce? How about a pound of rotten strawberries with queso and rat jerky?”
Only with the Rockets it is “Can you make peace with Chris Paul?” As it turns out, there is much to admire about Chris Paul, although I can still remember exactly why he bugged me as well. He is not, all said, a fried bat.
(Is Carmelo Anthony a fried bat? He might be, though that’s not entirely fair to a player who was state of the art when he joined the league. Perhaps he’s one of those dishes people enjoyed to distraction at one time, and largely don’t consume with the same fervor today. Oysters? Nothing wrong with an oyster, but they’re not part of the daily diet for most anymore. (If he’s an oyster, his natural home is New Orleans.))
Now we’re asked to embrace Russell Westbrook. I admit this is difficult. Not from any personal animosity, but because in the past I haven’t liked the way he plays. Some people love it. They love everything about him: the attitude, the maniacal play style, the clothes, the combative personality, the sheer burning heat he brings to everything.
Those same people typically hate James Harden, with his cold-eyed craft in service of art. James Harden to me is the Picasso of the NBA, in that he has to be an utterly perfect technician to successfully achieve his brilliance, his vision. People might complain, and say he’s wrong, or bad, but they generally don’t understand what it is he’s doing in the first place. He’s subverted the paradigm and it looks weird.
They don’t like things that look weird. They like four steps and a dunk from the three-point line. It’s so easy to understand. There are no odd angles, or things moving in multiple directions at the same time, like Picasso. Not one is challenging your idea of how things should look, how they can move, how they might be seen differently, yet still fit within the medium.
Because Harden and Westbrook are long-time friends, and former teammates, some mistake that for having other similarities. They don’t have too many. Westbrook isn’t a perfect technician masquerading as a mad man; he’s a mad man. A calculating mad man, perhaps, but it looks like Jackson Pollack on the court.
That’s where the fear, and possible joy, come in for Rockets fans, that difference. Because Chris Paul, for all his virtues, is a similar player to James Harden. Paul, like Harden, is a master of his craft who relies on skill, guile, vision, and frankly, perfection of technique, to get results. Accounting for Chris Paul, point god, isn’t too much different from accounting for James Harden, whateverheis. Difficult, but not that different.
Russell Westbrook, for all his faults, is not like James Harden, and that could change it all for the Rockets. If. If Westbrook buys in, embraces The Rocket Way. If he decides to be the best complimentary player in the NBA, because it is within his capabilities to be that, the Rockets will destroy opponents.
From an analytical perspective, I worry. From a fan’s perspective, I think the Rockets are going to be great. I think they’re going to be a wrecking ball (with the usual caveats).
I have found a #13 with what could be a larger, more impressive beard than James Harden. Impossible you say? I give you Semi Radradra of the Fijian national rugby team.
An aside, largely unrelated, maybe:
A – “My mind works in strange ways! Really strange.”
B- “I’ve seen stranger.”
A – “No way! I’m SO weird.”
B – “Nope. I know weird. You aren’t it.”
A- “But, that’s my thing!”
B- “Listen. What you mainly know is stuff that almost no one your age knows, but nearly everyone older who pays attention to the subject, does know.”
A – “But I’m funny!”
B- “Yes. But, you, personally, aren’t as interesting as you think you are. Talk about something besides yourself. Stop relying on generational catchphrases.”
Is that a conversation with my younger self, or with a lot of clever basketball writing on the internet right now? Why can’t it be both?
Too many analogies?
This poll is closed
Luka is the night, dark and inevitable.