Houston Rockets: A closer look at the breakup of James Harden

Houston Rockets James Harden (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports) /

The breakup of the Houston Rockets and James Harden

The Houston Rockets took a swing for the fences and were rewarded with a breakout star in James Harden. This pairing and relationship has developed and run its course, and a divorce was necessary

It’s been brewing for a while but bandages were applied. From his emergence and eventual fall out with Dwight Howard to his verbal disputes with Chris Paul, to his on-court differences with Russell Westbrook, this breakup has been brewing for years. Former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey did a relatively good job surrounding Harden with pieces, and with two really good basketball coaches in Kevin McHale and Mike D’Antoni, but they were never able to get over the hump. A lot of things factored into that, but it’s clear the former MVP has grown tired of it himself.

Houston has been on the cusp and contending for years. Throughout the Golden State Warriors‘ run, the Rockets were right there the whole way.

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Harden’s relationship history in Houston had been rocky. After making the playoffs in his first season, the Rockets would sign Dwight Howard, presenting an interesting duo. The pairing had a lot of potential and could have been the next great guard/big combo.

Harden and Howard would lead Houston to the Western Conference Finals a year later, but they’d be defeated quickly by the Golden State Warriors. This was the beginning of a recurring theme.

As Harden began to emerge as a player, Howard began to grow disinterested. Their relationship began to take a turn heading into the following season. Head coach Kevin McHale would be fired early and the team had growing chemistry issues.

Howard vouching publicly for the ball more, and a rumored trade request from Harden led to an even more of a toxic environment. Neither player was confrontational so their problems grew and no one was willing to solve. After Harden beat Golden State in the playoffs on a buzzer-beater, Howard could not have looked less enthused.

That was the writing on the wall and after they were eliminated by the Warriors, Howard was shipped to the Atlanta Hawks. There was no bad blood between the two all-stars, just two personalities that couldn’t problem-solve well enough to co-exist on and off the court.

It was the beginning of his prime and he was learning how to be a superstar. Their situation could have been resolved with the proper voices in place, but they weren’t. In Harden’s first year with Mike D’Antoni and his first without Howard, he took off even higher and delivered an MVP caliber season. They went and got Chris Paul that summer and received immediate results.

The Harden and Paul pairing led Houston back to the Western Conference Finals, and they even had the defending champions and their nemesis, the Golden State Warriors, on the ropes. Paul would hurt himself at the end of a Game 5 win, which led to the Rockets going into a closeout home game without him.

This injury shifted the NBA history books because if Paul plays in Game 7 the outcome would have surely been different. Houston led throughout the game but they came out of the locker room cold and missed 27 straight three’s, which led to the Warriors winning the series and advancing to the Finals.

That was a tough blow, to get so close and lose to the same team. How they lost may have stung more as missing 27 straight 3’s is a brain scratcher. It led to questions among coaching and health. After getting so close and losing without him, extending Chris Paul made a lot of sense. It kept the contender in place but there were internal issues.

Harden and Paul’s relationship grew toxic over the course of the following season, as they argued on and off the court, including a notable spat that left coach D’Antoni helpless. Their relationship was deemed “unsalvagable” and the dysfunction led to Paul demanding a trade request. Their rift was a bit publicized, but there were a lot of internal issues. These two went far together, things just turned left quick

After another mentally exhausting relationship, James Harden would rekindle a flame. Chris Paul would be swapped out for Russell Westbrook, reassembling him with Harden. Reuniting the pair had so much promise, both were in their primes, former MVPs and scoring champions. This had a lot of potential to take off, and things started brightly. Coach Mike D’Antoni experimented with small-ball and Russ took his play to another level.

Along the way, issues were brewing between the two superstars. Westbrook was not a fan of Harden’s work ethic and he didn’t like the Rockets culture early. Harden had earned all the leniency in the world, but he could have been more professional. In return, Westbrook could have taken a back seat and been a much more efficient player. The two ball-dominant guards failed to co-exist when it mattered. Russ grew fed up and but he wasn’t the only one to demand a trade. This time Harden voiced his desire to leave as well.

All of these things have built up over time. The failures, the breakups, the philosophical differences, all of it. Any chance of him staying had gone out of the door. He was gone mentally before the season started. The John Wall pairing could have been something and the pieces aren’t bad, but we saw what happened against the Lakers. His post-game press conference was the firm writing on the wall. He knows they can’t beat them, and that’s not the best spirit but he’s being realistic.

The verbal energy isn’t healthy right now in Houston, and it hasn’t been for a long time honestly. Is he the problem? Off the court, I’m sure he could improve, but on the court, he’s the best guard in the league. He’s averaged nearly 30-plus points for five seasons, churned out three straight scoring titles, and an MVP trophy. He’s done his part and about all he could do. A change of scenery will be healthy for both sides.

Next. James Harden Traded To The Brooklyn Nets. dark

No way they receive fair trade value but it’s time. The relationship has rotted and Harden is at the peak of his career. His approach may not be the healthiest, but he’s got every reason to feel how he does. Guys like Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, and Vince Carter, were traded a bit too late in their careers to achieve peak success in their prime. Luckily, Kevin Garnett got out in time and we just watched Anthony Davis get himself into a contending situation. Harden wants to win, and it won’t happen in Houston. It’s time. The move to Brooklyn puts him in a position to win now.