This past weekend became interesting, as the rebuilding of the Houston Rockets could change. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke intriguing news on an early Christmas Day that James Harden is interested in rekindling his relationship with the Rockets.
Harden is now with the Philadelphia 76ers, but was previously on the Brooklyn Nets. Although Harden left the Rockets for the Nets, it would be astounding for both sides to make a relationship work in the offseason so the younger Rockets can grow around him.
As the news broke, Harden became appalled during his press conference after a win versus the New York Knicks.
“I’m here and we’re playing very well. And I don’t know where that report came from. And I’m excited to be here and we’re playing well and we’re continuing to get better,”
This became ironic, as Harden said the same thing last time with the Nets. When the press conference continued, another reporter asked about the news, but Harden still rejected the awkward report of Woj.
If Harden does come back to the Rockets, he will not be the player as he once was. Harden packed on almost 40 minutes per game underneath Mike D’ Antoni and Kevin McHale. The offensive juggernaut scored over 30 points per game for three season straights, and it still wasn’t enough to beat the Golden St. Warriors nor the Los Angeles Lakers.
Although Harden scored a ton of points, he became tired of being the savior of the Rockets, which caused him to leave. “The situation that I was in Houston, consistently, you know every single night having to get 40 points to give ourselves a chance to win for a long stand of years is draining,” Harden said.
So, what’s different about Harden now? Is it the cap space? The Rockets’ younger core? His conscience? It seems to the public that Harden has gave up the eye of finding a championship contender. He also sees the open cap space, which includes the talented young core of the Rockets.
I initially assumed Harden would be coaxed into playing with the Rockets again after finding out he played pick-up basketball at Toyota Center with Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jabari Smith Jr. It seemed as he was curious of their playing styles and how to orchestrate it into winning basketball.
James Harden spent some of his summer playing pick-up basketball with Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. at the Toyota Center in Houston— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) December 5, 2022
(h/t @AdamSpolane) pic.twitter.com/Pii9pdcKSf
Like mentioned before, Harden will not be the same player, but could rely on his on-ball playmaking. In the last four seasons, Harden has averaged over 10 assists per game with the Rockets, Nets and Sixers.
Within his two-year stint with the 76ers, Harden has mentored Tyrese Maxey. Maxey has been a promising guard with the 76ers and became a volume scorer for them in the last three seasons. But with Harden, Maxey has been aggressive. Although Maxey has been out of the lineup due to an injury, the Harden-Maxey duo averaged 62.6 points per game on 49.5 percent from the field in nine games this season (Per NBA Stats).
Maxey even picked up his point production from the previous season, which was 17.5 to 22.9 points per contest. As Harden’s guidance has shown, he could do the same for Green. Green has taken a huge step towards his prime this season by becoming a better finisher at the rim, defender, playmaker and a consistent shooter from the field. The only thing Green is missing from his potential is the ability to know how to close games.
Throughout Harden’s career, he has had the momentum to close and take over games consistently. Harden will be the bigger brother that gives tough love and leadership towards Green at the age of 34 years old.
Harden will have the ability to make Green an All-Star, which also includes incorporating Alperen Sengun. Inside of Harden’s career, the two-man game has become his bread and butter. Clint Capela and Nic Claxton have the seen fruits and labor of Harden’s passing ability. Those two big men received huge contracts from catching lobs and receiving pocket passes towards the rim.
Sengun can roll, pop, and pass out of the formation like Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. Harden and Sengun are intelligent players and know manipulate opposing defenses with their deceptive on-ball skills.
In an eccentric opinion, Porter and Jae’Sean Tate could be shipped of to the 76ers in a trade, instead of Harden possibly opting out of his contract. Porter-Harden-Green could create a ton of staggering on the court, as it could be a slight reminder of Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Too much staggering could affect the flow of the Rockets’ offense.
The Rockets are missing a point guard, which Harden, Scoot Henderson or Nick Smith could solve. Although Porter has shown growth this season as a scorer, his skills at the point guard position need work. This season, Porter is averaging close to four turnovers per game and looks indecisive with the basketball. The front office of the Rockets has become unsure of Porter’s future, which was reported by Tim MacMaMahon of ESPN.
If Porter is gone, who could fill that wing position next to Harden and Green? Tari Eason is a possibility but would do justice off the bench.
Amen Thompson could be the answer for the Rockets at the wing position. He is 6’7” with a great wingspan, vertical and quickness. His skill set is unique because he is extremely versatile at his height. Having the ability to create pocket passes in the two-man game and seeing the floor in transition and connecting with his teammates.
Thompson has NBA star ability to shine next to Harden and Green. Per 40 minutes, Thompson is averaging 20 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.1 steals per contest. His athleticism is unique and creates problems on the offensive and defensive side of the of the ball.
Another eye raiser is the comfortability of Harden enduring Stephan Silas as his head coach. Silas mentioned that Harden and Westbrook endorsed him as the head coach for the Rockets, although both still left to two different teams. Silas said:
“The two guys who I spoke to last were Russ and James, and now they’re not here any more. Those were the guys who vouched for me to the job. I assume if they didn’t like the conversations that they had with me, I wouldn’t be here right now. For neither guy to be here, most recently James, it is kind of sobering. I guess the reality of the NBA. I’m grateful to both of those guys for vouching for me and telling Rafael Stone that I’d be a good choice to be the head coach.”
Silas mentioned this a year ago after Harden left toward the Nets. Recently, before the Rockets played the 76ers, a reporter asked Silas a question about Harden endorsing him again and he decided to not reply to that answer. It became noticeable that Harden didn’t want to be a part of Silas’s first year as head coach.
When Harden was in Houston, he had complete control amongst the front office and locker room environment, which also included on what coach he wanted. Once Daryl Morey stepped down as the Rockets’ GM, the decision ultimately became Tilman Fertitta’s choice. This also persuaded Harden to leave the Rockets abruptly. To have Harden completely on board, the coaching decision must be in his favor.
If Silas was fired this off-season, Harden’s coaching wish could be Mike D’Antoni, who showed him a turn of favor on and off the court. D’ Antoni allowed Harden to show up to team meetings and plane takeoffs late. Harden dictated the players he wanted on the court, which included on how the offense was ran. If Harden did not like a certain play call from Paul or Westbrook, he would casually stand near half-court without D’Antoni saying anything towards him.
Besides Harden dictating the offense his style of play, D’Antoni made him an offensive threat. For three straight seasons, Harden lead the league isolations and points. The four-in-one offense allowed Harden to dominate defensive players in one-on-one situations and take over the two-man game. Harden and D’Antoni dominated opposing team’s defenses.
Stat line underneath Mike D’Antoni (Harden’s isolation percentile)
- 2016-17: 0.97 points per possession while being ranked in the 76th percentile
- 2017-2018: 1.12 points per possession while being ranked in the 95.7 percentile
- 2018-2019: 1.10 points per possession while being ranked in the 92.7 percentile
D’ Antoni would do amazing things with Green, Sengun and Smith on offense. He’ll get more of an offensive group to deal with. It will be younger team, but with more energy and athletic ability. The Rockets will be able to run the court better and create great spacing amongst each other.
Smith can score all over the court by playing center or the wing because of the versatility on offense. D’Antoni can unlock Smith’s offensive range, as he can already pull up over defenders and score on transition. Smith can be useful in two-man game as well, which he showed earlier this season versus the Atlanta Hawks. D’Antoni will assert Green as his main chess piece on offense as he did with Harden and Steve Nash. Green should make Harden’s life easier on offense. Allowing Harden to depend on Green when needed too.
Like Paul did to Devin Booker, Harden would do for Green. If Harden comes to Houston, the rebuild will be sped up and a lot will change for the Rockets’ future. This will be a good business move for Harden and the Rockets to accomplish. Might not be a championship team, but the pieces the Rockets will have can work towards that.